Golden Hathor earring found in Meroë
This golden earring depicting the Ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor was discovered in the location of the ancient city of Meroë, capital of the Kingdom of Kush for several centuries from around 590 B.C., until its collapse in the 4th century A.D.
The golden Hathor earring would have been a representation of the goddess and may have been worn as a form of religious or decorative jewelry.
The Kushitic city of Meroë gave its name to the “Island of Meroë, which today is 200 km north-east of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
“Hathor was the ancient Egyptian deity of many realms: mother to Horus, god of the sky, and Ra, the sun god; and goddess of beauty (including cosmetics), sensuality, music, dancing, and maternity. She is often depicted wearing a headdress of cow horns with a sun disk between them, or as a cow or lioness. Worshipped across Ancient Egypt and Nubia, from royal temples to domestic family altars, Hathor was one of the most important divinities in the ancient Egyptian and Nubian pantheons.
“The worship of Hathor spread from Egypt to Nubia,” says Solange Ashby, a scholar of ancient Egyptian language and Nubian religion.”
– Getty, 2023.
Hathor is not unambiguously mentioned or depicted until the Fourth Dynasty (c. 2613–2494 BC) of the Old Kingdom, although several artefacts that refer to her may date to the Early Dynastic Period (c. 3100–2686 BC). When Hathor does clearly appear, her horns curve outward, rather than inward, like those in Predynastic art.
Hathor took many forms and appeared in a wide variety of roles. The Egyptologist Robyn Gillam suggests that these diverse forms emerged when the royal goddess promoted by the Old Kingdom court subsumed many local goddesses worshipped by the general populace, who were then treated as manifestations of her.
Egyptian texts often speak of the manifestations of the goddess as “Seven Hathors” or, less commonly, of many more Hathors—as many as 362. For these reasons, Gillam calls her “a type of deity rather than a single entity”.
Hathor’s diversity reflects the range of traits that the Egyptians associated with goddesses. More than any other deity, she exemplifies the Egyptian perception of femininity.
Hathor was connected with trade and foreign lands, possibly because her role as a sky goddess linked her with stars and hence navigation, and because she was believed to protect ships on the Nile and in the seas beyond Egypt as she protected the barque of Ra in the sky. The mythological wandering of the Eye goddess in Nubia or Libya gave her a connection with those lands as well.
South of Egypt, Hathor’s influence was thought to have extended over the land of Punt, which lay along the Red Sea coast and was a major source for the incense with which Hathor was linked, as well as with Nubia, northwest of Punt.
The autobiography of Harkhuf, an official in the 6th Dynasty (c. 2345–2181 BC), describes his expedition to a land in or near Nubia, from which he brought back great quantities of ebony, panther skins, and incense for the king.
The text describes these exotic goods as Hathor’s gift to the pharaoh. Egyptian expeditions to mine gold in Nubia introduced her cult to the region during the Middle and New Kingdoms, and New Kingdom pharaohs built several temples to her in the portions of Nubia that they ruled.