Tablet with the Representation of a Heron
In Ancient Egypt the figure of the grey heron (Bennu or bnw) with a long beak and a double feathered crest was surrounded by mythical associations. When the flooded Nile waters slowly retreated, the heron was among the first birds to appear on the top of the mounds protruding from the water.
In the morning light the graceful figure of the bird was associated by Egyptians with the sun disc rising from the surface of the water at dawn. The heron’s cult center was Heliopolis, the sacred city of the sun god. It is, therefore, not fortuitous that the phoenix bird became the symbol of birth and rebirth.
Ancient Egyptians looked at the animal world with curiosity and love. This is evident from the numerous animal depictions one can find in tombs and temples, rich of bright colors and details.
The bird appearing with the beams of the rising sun was naturally connected to the myth of Osiris and thus the belief of Egyptians in the afterlife. In some depictions the Bennu bird wears the atef crown of Osiris and it plays an important role in the texts of the Book of the Dead.
The Bennu bird bird placed on a mummy brought magical help for the deceased, important for him or her in the afterlife. The sunk figure incised into the stone tablet that can be seen here was used to make amulets: the bird thus modeled from wax or plaster was placed among the layers of mummy bandages. It was the animal representation of life that cyclically renews itself, a wish for rebirth. This is why in the Books of the Dead there was a formula for transforming the deceased into Bennu.
Ptolemaic Period, ca. 305-30 BC. Now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest. 60.11-E