An ancient Egyptian “masterpiece” painting of birds flying and perching on a verdant swamp is so detailed that modern researchers can tell exactly which species the artisans illustrated more than 3,300 years ago.
The painting was discovered about a century ago on the walls of the Amarna Palace, a ancient egyptian capital located about 186 miles (300 kilometers) south of Cairo. Although previous research has examined the mural’s wildlife, the new study is the first to delve into the identity of all the birds, some of which have unnatural markings.
Many of the birds depicted are rock doves (livia columba), but there are also images showing a pied kingfisher (ceryle rudis), a red-backed shrike (lanio collurio) and a white wagtail (motacilla alba), study co-investigator christopher stimpson (opens in a new tab)Honorary Associate of the Oxford University Natural History Museum and study co-author barry kemp (opens in a new tab)emeritus professor of Egyptology at Cambridge University, in a study published December 15 in the journal Antiquity (opens in a new tab). The team studied a facsimile (a copy) of the artwork and used previously published ornithological and taxonomic research papers to identify the birds.
The room, now known as the “Green Room,” is painted with images of water lilies, papyrus plants and birds, a scene that may have created a serene atmosphere where the royal family could relax, the researchers said. It is “realistic to suggest that the calming effects of the natural environment were just as important to the royal house then as has been increasingly shown today,” Stimpson and Kemp wrote in the study.
It is possible that the actual plants were kept in her room along with the perfume and that the ancient Egyptians played music there. “A room adorned, to any extent, with a masterpiece of naturalistic art, filled with music, and scented with cut plants, would have been a remarkable sensory experience,” the researchers wrote.
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Approximately between 1353 B.C. C. and 1336 a. C., the pharaoh Akhenaten (the father of King Tutankhamun) ruled Egypt. He changed the religion of Egypt, centering it on the worship of the Aten, the sun disk. He built a new capital called Akhetaten (present-day Amarna) and had the northern palace built in it.
Excavated between 1923 and 1925 by the Egyptian Exploration Society, the Green Room paintings were fragile, and the Egyptologist Nina de Garis Davies painted facsimiles of them. The facsimiles are important because the paintings no longer exist.
“The only way to have preserved them would have been to rebury the rooms in sand,” Kemp told Live Science in an email. “The archaeologists chose not to do this, fearing that the local people had harmed them, a fear that was probably exaggerated.”
In 1926, an attempt to preserve the panels with consolidants, a substance intended to strengthen them, failed, causing the paints to fade and darken, the researchers wrote in their paper. This meant that the researchers had to rely on facsimiles drawn by de Garis Davies to identify the birds.
While the pied kingfisher and rock pigeons can still be found in Egypt year-round, the red-backed shrike and white wagtail are migratory birds, the researchers wrote. “Red-backed shrikes are common fall migrants in Egypt between August and November,” while the white wagtail is a “common passage migrant from October to April,” when it is an abundant winter visitor to cultivated areas where crops are grown, the researchers wrote. .
The masterpiece shows several rock doves, although these birds are not native to the papyrus swamps of Egypt; instead, these birds are associated with the region’s desert cliffs. The researchers say the most likely explanation is that the ancient artists decided to include them anyway to make the scene look better. “Their presence may have been a simple motive to enhance the feeling of a wilder and more untamed nature,” the researchers wrote.
Interestingly, ancient artists marked red-backed shrikes and white wagtails with triangular tail markings that the birds do not have in real life. The researchers speculated that the artists may have drawn these markings to indicate that both bird species visited Egypt only in season.
Despite these marks, the artists did a good job of creating realistic images of birds and plants. “I think the Green Room images are remarkable, even in the broader context of ancient Egyptian art, as an example of close observation of the natural world,” Stimpson told Live Science in an email.