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Why the “Dendera Light” is Not a Light bulb

Updated on October 8, 2019
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Mamerto Adan is a feature writer back in college for a a school paper. Science is one of his many interests, and his favorite topic.

We hear a lot of sensationalized hearsay from fringe theorists, and one of their favorites is Ancient Egypt. Their so-called historical facts range from the outrageous, to somewhat insulting. Their notion that the Pyramids of Giza was made by alien civilization is both though. One will raise an eyebrow upon hearing that the builders of the pyramids are beings from another planet. And at the same time, it’s like claiming that humanity is too puny or dumb for feats of engineering (enough to trigger any Egyptians anywhere).

And that doesn’t stop there.

Literally written on the wall are so called evidence of Ancient Egypt’s advanced technology. We will cover the rest on separate hubs, but one shape ticked the imaginations of fringe theorists everywhere.

On the stone walls of Hathor Temple at Dendera Egypt are carved reliefs of what seems to be an electrical device. An oblong shaped object with a spirally something inside. To be short, the thing superficially resembles a light bulb. And we all know that light bulbs won’t appear until the end of 19th century. Could it be, that the Ancient Egyptian civilization was more advanced that we first thought of? I mean they could produce electric lamp.

Not so fast, experts warned. As what the Transformers slogan says; it’s more than meets the eye.

The Dendera Lamp of Hathor Temple

The Hathor Temple of Dendera
The Hathor Temple of Dendera

Again, one could find the stone relief in the Hathor Temple, in the Upper Egyptian Complex of Dendera. To anyone interested, the Dendera Temple Complex is a well-preserved site, covering 40000 square meters and enclosed with walls of mudbrick. Nearby is the Dendera Necropolis dating from the Early Dynastic Period of the Old Kingdom. The Temple of Hathor dominates the whole complex.

It is worth mentioning that although the Temple of Hathor was modified since the Middle Kingdom, the existing construction we are seeing right now was constructed in the late Ptolemic period.

The Temple boasts a series of shrines, passages, crypts and wall reliefs. Among them, the so called “Dendera Light” stirs the most controversy because of its resemblance to a “Crooke’s Tube” (an early light bulb). There are five stone reliefs that comprises the images, with two resembling that alleged light bulb.

Looking at the relief, we could see an oblong shape that do resemble a light bulb fixed on what looks like a socket. A wire-like wavy line extends from the socket and leads to the box, where the air-god kneels. There is two armed Djed pillar connected to the wire, and a baboon bearing two knives. Erich Von Daniken, the man who brought us the (infamous) Chariots of the Gods book suggested that the Djed pillar was an insulator, while the baboon was a warning that the device could inflict harm if not used properly.

Supporters of the theory indicate the absence of soot from existing Egyptian structure could be an indication that actual electric light was used.

What the Relief Really Represents

Other images in the relief.
Other images in the relief.

Officially, Egyptologist never saw this as an evidence of light bulbs (we will get to that later) but a combination of Lotus flower, Djed pillar and a snake.

The so-called bulb is the representation of the womb of Nut, the goddess of the sky and the depiction of the night. The socket of the light bulb is the Lotus flower, while the wire we are seeing here is a snake. Hence the relief might be a reference to the rising sun, with the snake god Semataui (the sun) springing from the night (the womb of Nut).

The snake coming out of the Lotus flower also symbolizes fertility (linked to the Nile flood). As for the Djed pillar, it is the symbol of stability, the backbone of the god Osiris. Hence the relief also represents stability and fertility

Problems With the Theory

The roof of the Dendera Temple covered in soot.
The roof of the Dendera Temple covered in soot.

Like many of the fringe theories ranging from the claims that Christ is fictional, Aliens built the pyramids and other forms of cranks rising from the dark reaches of the net, it lacks proper evidence.

Firstly, as some people pointed out, human perception matters. The light bulb shape of the relief could mean anything, like eggplants. But there are corresponding texts in the relief that help describe the images. For example, the snake is described by the text as the symbolic sun moving in the sky, further cementing its depiction as the symbol of the rising sun. While the text beside the “socket” confirms it as a Lotus flower.

Hence what the images represents is literally written on the wall, which is not good news for fringe theorist.

The text descriptions may be enough to debunk the theory but do note that there is zero evidence of light bulb use in Ancient Egypt. There should be remnants of the socket, or any electrical components under the sands of Egypt. Where are they? And ancient civilizations love to brag their achievements, whether military or technical. An electric lamp would have been a breakthrough in the ancient world, why is it limited in a few reliefs in the Temple of Hathor (if it is even a lightbulb)?

The theory never even mentioned where the Egyptians got their electricity.

Most people who stand by the fringe theory will tell you that it might be a long-lost technology that produced the power source. Some will point you to the equally questionable Baghdad Battery, an alleged ancient battery capable of producing electricity. Experts reject the idea as the overall construction of the terracotta pot with copper sheet and iron rod won’t be a functional power source, having no terminals to begin with

Then there is the absence of lampblack deposits, or soot in tombs. The problem is, there are soot on the Dendera temple, while the absence of lamp blacks in other structures are the result of later cleaning.

Even the construction of the so called Dendera Light is questionable. The thing seems to be over-sized, and the glass bulb in modern lights serve as insulation itself. Hence there is no need for additional insulation, like the Djed pillar.

Still, the Theory Persisted

The so called reconstruction of the Dendera Light.
The so called reconstruction of the Dendera Light.

Despite of the many evidences going against the Dendera Lamp theory, and the lack of evidence to support the fringe theory, it remains popular among ancient alien believers. Long lost advanced technology by ancient people is intriguing, no matter how insane it sounds. Some people will even insist that professional Egyptologist are mistaken, and their own interpretations are far more accurate. They will even accuse Egyptologists of conspiring to distort the “truth,” to keep the ancient technology suppressed. They want to keep these stuffs secret as a form of control.

Whatever these fringe theorists say, it gave me another reason to not to trust social media hearsay even more.

References:

1. Childress, D. H. (2000). "Technology of the gods: the incredible sciences of the ancients." Kempton, Ill: Adventures Unlimited Press.

2. J. Hill. (2010). "The Dendera Lightbulb." Ancient Egypt Online.

3.Norman, Lockyer (1998). "The Dawn of Astronomy." Kessinger Publishing.


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