Archaeologists with the University of Tübingen, in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, uncovered ancient Egyptian murals depicting the zodiac signs beneath 2,000 years of grime and soot in the Temple of Esna.
The archaeologists have been working to restore the temple, which lies on the West Bank of the Nile, near the city of Luxor, which was once known as Thebes.
“The zodiac was used to decorate private tombs and sarcophagi and was of great importance in astrological texts, such as horoscopes found inscribed on pottery sherds,” Dr. Daniel von Recklinghausen, a Tübingen researcher, said in a press release. “However, it is rare in temple decoration: Apart from Esna, there are only two completely preserved versions left, both from Dendera.”
The zodiac was introduced to Egypt late in its history by the Greeks when they established their Ptolemaic Kingdom in the North African state. The zodiac is originally of Babylonian origin, though there is a long and diverse astrological tradition with its attendant symbols across the world.
The Temple has a complete depiction of all twelve signs, though some are more recognizable than others. The sign of Sagittarius, for example, is represented as a centaur with a bow and arrow, which is how the sign is depicted in modernity. However, in the Egyptian version, Sagittarius wears a lion mask, has the tail of a scorpion, and wings.
Other reliefs uncovered in the Temple show the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars as well as stars and constellations. There are also depictions of fantastic beasts, such as a snake with a ram’s head, a bird with a crocodile’s head and many winged snakes.
All of the reliefs are very well preserved. As archaeologists have cleaned the temple, the original colors have begun to shine through. Restoration work has been going on for the past five years.