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Ancient Eyptian Elephant

An elephant, or Abu in ancient Egyptian (transliteration: Ꜣbw), is a large animal native to Africa and Asia. Elephants lived in Egypt during Predynastic times; however, they became extinct there during the first dynasty.[1] Amulets in the form of elephant heads were popular in Predynastic Egypt.

The ancient Egyptian civilization had contact with elephants from its neighboring regions:

  • The Syrian elephant (Elephas maximus asurus) to the East.
  • The North African elephant (Loxodonta africana pharaohensis) to the West.
  • The African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana) and African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) to the South.

Syrian elephant[]

Rekhmire elephant

Tomb of Rekhmire elephant

The Syrian elephant was hunted by the ancient Egyptians during the New Kingdom. In the tomb of Rekhmire, Syrians are shown bringing exotic animals as offerings, including an elephant and a bear. Tuthmosis III is said to have killed 120 Syrian elephants.[2]

North African elephant[]


Roman war elephant

This subspecies was used as a war elephant during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.[2] During this time, this elephant is known from a burial in the Faiyum Oasis area.

Sub-Saharan African elephants[]

Nubian Elephant

Meroitic king riding an elephant

Other elephant species lived in parts of Nubia and Punt. A double-crowned Meroitic king can be seen riding an elephant from a relief carving in Musawarat es-Sufra, Meroë.[2]

Religious significance[]

In the Middle Kingdom, spell 379 in coffin texts indicates the transformation of the deceased to be like an elephant; this gives the deceased the ability to see the Rerek Serpent during his journey in the underworld as Osiris. Elephants were ceremonially buried in Egypt since the predynastic times.[1]

Nubian elephant-headed god[]

Statuette of a predynastic elephant god

Statuette of a predynastic elephant god from temple ruins in Wad Ban naqa (Naga), Sudan

The "elephant god" was worshipped in Meroïtic religion during Predynastic times. This representation may be compared with the elephant statue at Wad Ban Naga (also in Nubia), but in ancient Egypt proper, there are no known Egyptian deities to take the elephant form.[1] Some scholars believe this absence in Egypt proper is due to the early extinction that elephants faced there.[2]

The Nubian elephant god is known from a statue and graffito in Sudan. He is sometimes represented wearing a solar disk; this indicates that this deity is a manifestation of the sun.