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HOME : Egyptian Antiquities : Masterpieces of Egyptian Art : Neolithic Flint Sculpture of a Fish
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Neolithic Flint Sculpture of a Fish - PF.7003
Origin: Egypt
Circa: 8000 BC to 5000 BC
Dimensions: 1.1428" (2.9cm) high x 4.5" (11.4cm) wide
Collection: Egyptian Antiquities
Medium: Flint

Location: Great Britain
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The role of an animal in the modern age is primarily that of companionship or food. Older cultures, however, did not always behold animals in such a manner. In fact, cultures like the one of ancient Egypt naturally consumed certain animals for survival purposes but also associated plenty of other animals with gods and goddesses of their pantheon, also using certain among them for sacrificial purposes. Last but not least, some animals were also deified. Many different types of fish were found in the Nile, such as the Nile Puffer, sturgeon, Gilt-head Bream, Nile Carp, catfish, mullet, Nile Bichir, Moon Fish, shark, Nile Barb, Tigerfish, Cornish Jack, and Nile Labeo. Permanent fishing fleets were maintained in the Delta and Fayum, which brought in their catch using nets, fish traps, trawls, harpoons, spears, dragnets, seines, and the line and hook. Fish were enjoyed by all classes of Egyptian society and were part of most Egyptians' daily diet. Fish was often the first food a child ate after weaning. Fish were fried, smoked, broiled, salted, sun-dried, boiled, pickled, or used in soups. Fish-bones were made into beads, needles, and awls. Wages and taxes were sometimes paid in baskets of fish. Fish were also used as payment in international trade - in the report of Wenamun, 35 baskets of dried fish were destined as partial payment for a shipment of Syrian cedar. Mullet was particularly favored, and the roe was considered to be a delicacy. Favorite recipes called for the meat to be shredded and mixed with bread and spices into a fishcake, or marinating the fish in wine, beer, or oil with onions, then sprinkling it with pepper or coriander. A condiment made of preserved fish in brine was similar to the Chinese forerunner of soy sauce. The Israelites, who had become accustomed to the standard Egyptian diet of bread, fish and vegetables, complained when they were wandering in the desert: "We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely . . ." (Numbers 11) The Bolti fish was regarded as a symbol of rebirth because it carries its eggs in its mouth. The Tilapia was believed to have multiple lives, and to be self-created. The image of a fish with lotus flowers issuing from its mouth was a symbol of resurrection. Amulets of both were buried with the dead. The heart was likened to a "red fish swimming in a pond." During the harrowing journey through the Duat (underworld), the deceased at one point changed into a fish. The possession of a fish amulet was believed to help with this transformation. Sometimes an actual mummified fish was included in the mummy wrappings. On one Egyptian coffin dating to 330 B.C.E., a fish takes the place of the Ba-bird hovering protectively over the mummy. Fish were also placed in tombs to serve as food for the dead. According to the Coffin Texts, the deceased wishes to become like the crocodile god Sobek, who "lives on fish." Considered a food pleasing to the gods, Ramses III gave to the Temple of Amun some 474,640 fish, both fresh and dried. Fishing scenes were popular in tomb paintings. The wealthy had pools stocked with fish for pleasure. Fish were also purchased as gifts to feed sacred animals, especially cats. The ancient Egyptian people wore fish amulets to prevent drowning. Fish amulets were also exchanged during the New Year for good luck. Sacred fish swimming in temple pools had golden ornaments attached to their fins, well fed and marveled at by onlookers. At a fish cemetery in Mendes, hundreds of cups, jars, and tiny sarcophagi were uncovered, each containing a mummified sacred fish. These fish had been slit open at the belly, cleaned, stuffed with fine grass ash, and wrapped with linen. This practice is illustrated in a tomb at Deir el-Medina depicting the god Anubis embalming a large fish. Some fish were sacred in some particular places and thus their consumption was strictly prohibited, whereas in other areas fish were among the standard daily most common items of nourishment. Although usually only priests and royalty were prohibited by taboo from eating fish, in some districts of Egypt fish could not be eaten. A war was reputed to have broken out between a city that forbade fish as food and a city whose residents enjoyed eating fish. The goddess Hatmehit from the Delta city of Mendes, was known as the 'Ruler of Fish', and was worshipped in the form of a fish or as a woman with an emblematic fish on her head. In Ancient Egypt, the fish had both sacred and scorned species, certain species of fish were associated with various deities and therefore considered to be sacred. The symbol of the patron goddess of fishermen, Hat-Mehit, was the Lepidotus Fish. The goddess Neith was associated with the Nile Perch, the Nile Carp was associated with Osiris, and the gods Ra and Atum with the eel. The Nile Mormyrid was a symbol of the evil god Set, and therefore reviled (in some instances it was held as sacred because it was thought to carry some of Osiris' own flesh.) The Nile Tilapia and Abdju fish were sacred because they were believed to swim alongside Ra’s solar barge as it sailed through the underworld, acting as pilots and serving as lookouts for Ra’s enemy, Apep or Apophis, the water snake. Pharaohs and priests were not allowed to eat fish since fish were said to have consumed part of Osiris when Set chopped him into pieces and scattered those pieces across the world. Supposedly, it was the Nile carp, the Oxyrynchus or the Phagrus fish that ate the phallus of Osiris. Despite this, the Oxyrynchus was thought to be sacred in the Fayum area, where the people thought that this fish appeared out of the wounds of the god of the dead. - (PF.7003)


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