Review of Research of Nag el-Hamdulab Rock Art Panels

Reading “The earliest representations of royal power in Egypt: the rock drawings of Nag el-Hamdulab (Aswan)” was very interesting for me, since I have a particular interest in how cultures express themselves through petroglyphs and pictographs. Most of my research and experience has been with panels from the western United States, so it was intriguing to see the work of an entirely different culture. Southern Egypt would see the rise of a state-society, and it is fascinating to see that rise of power potentially portrayed in the rock art panels at Nag el-Hamdulab.

National Geographic published an article on the rediscovery of the panels in November of last year, providing some very nice color photos of the rock art.

There were several features of the research that caught my attention. The “stylistic and technical peculiarities” would be something I would have wished to now about in more detail. These features are used to make the assumption that only one or two artists were involved in the making of the artwork. This may very well be true, but it is very difficult to detect the subtle details of a particular artists style. What may be seen as a unique feature of a particular artist may instead be a trait of a localized style of rock art. It would be interesting to compare this panel to any others that may exist in the area, in order to note similarities or differences.

I also found it interesting to note that all of the figures were pecked in profile. None of the figures are depicted directly facing the viewer like a portrait. Native American rock art contains both types of images, but the portrait portrayal is often reserved for depictions of shaman or warrior figures. Perhaps the Egyptian style of adhering to just profile figures is a result of them already having a written language.

The fact that the Egyptians already had a system of writing and how that may have affected the layout of their rock art panels was a new concept to me. The imagery is usually grouped together at the right side of the rock face, correlating with Egyptian writing. This suggests that the artists were literate and of some standing in their culture. Rock art of the Americas is usually placed at the center of a rock face, or is seemingly placed randomly, with no organized tableau. The fact that the petroglyphs are pecked onto a flat surface was something that I found to be rather redundant. Rock art is almost always depicted on a flat surface making it easier to peck or paint, as well as making it more clearly visible to its intended audience.

The hieroglyphic text inscribed next the depicted scenes helps explain their purpose. While the rock art of pre-linguistic cultures may depict historical events and figures, they are more likely the product of a “vision quests” by shaman or some other form of spiritual worship. The panels of Nag el-Hamdulab though are meant to glorify and memorialize the power of the first Egyptian pharaohs. The hieroglyphs explain that the boats are part of the pharaoh’s grand tour of Egypt. This pattern of honoring the deeds of the pharaohs through artwork would eventually reach monumental scales.

Highlighted in the National Geographic article is the tragic fact that much of the original rock art has been destroyed and defaced by graffiti. This practice is not unique to Egypt, as the destruction and theft of rock art panels is a global phenomenon.