Hippo with papyrus pattern
Handmade scaled-down replica. The ancient Egyptians had a dual relationship with hippos. Although the animals were endowed with positive qualities, they were also feared as dangerous. Hippos are indeed unpredictable and powerful animals that - when they feel threatened - become extremely aggressive.
A hippopotamus can outrun a human over a short distance. Ancient Egyptians were attacked by hippopotami, but evidence that humans also survived is found in an ancient Egyptian medicine recipe for wounds caused by the bites of a hippopotamus. Hippopotami are herbivores and usually graze at night, when their enormous appetites can decimate a farmer's field. This was an issue in ancient Egypt; an inscription on a papyrus refers to such a devastating harvest: "The worm took half and the hippopotamus ate the rest."
Sadly now extinct in Egypt, the hippopotamus population suffered greatly in ancient times as human expansion restricted their habitat and began to hunt them. A decline in their numbers continued throughout history until the last wild hippos were observed in Egypt in the early 19th century.
However, the ancient Egyptians also recognized hippos as positive creatures. Hippos lived in the Nile, the source of life, and so they too were associated with life. They often submerge in water for several minutes to breathe, then sink again; this behavior of disappearing and reappearing was associated with regeneration and rebirth. Sometimes only the back of a hippopotamus is visible, evoking a land surrounded by water, an image the Egyptians may have associated with the primeval hill and the beginning of creation. In an Egyptian creation myth, there is the primeval water from which the primeval mound emerges and on which the sun rises for the first time.
- Place of discovery: Meir Tomb of Senbi, Egypt
- ca. 1900 B.C.
- Original in Metropolitan Museum New York, USA
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