This paper model is the Ankh (aka key of life, the key of the Nile or crux ansata), created by Sascha Craft. The Ankh was the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic character that read “life”. It represents the concept of eternal life, which is the general meaning of the symbol. The Egyptian gods are often portrayed carrying it by its loop, or bearing one in each hand, arms crossed over their chest. The origin of ankh is highly debated and it is represented by an oval or point-down teardrop set atop a T shape.
The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian tomb paintings and other art, often at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life on the dead person’s mummy; this is thought to symbolize the act of conception. Additionally, an ankh was often carried by Egyptians as an amulet, either alone, or in connection with two other hieroglyphs that mean “strength” and “health”. Mirrors of beaten metal were also often made in the shape of an ankh, either for decorative reasons or to symbolize a perceived view into another world.
Mika Waltari, who wrote the fictionalized documentary/novel The Egyptian in 1949, wrote of the origin of monotheistic culture in ancient Egypt, where the ankh first appeared as the symbol of this following. The first pharaoh to take on the name “ankh” within his own was the well known boy king, Tut-ankh-amon. According to this young king’s father, Aten was the only God, symbolized by the sun resting on the horizon; thus the circle resting on a horizontal bar. It is a common misconception that Tutankhamon did not die a natural death, but was challenged in to a situation which brought about his injury and death. This, allegedly, was performed by those against this early monotheism.
A symbol similar to the ankh appears frequently in Minoan and Mycenaean sites. This is a combination of the sacral knot (symbol of holiness) with the double-edged axe (symbol of matriarchy) but it can be better compared with the Egyptian tyet which is similar. This symbol can be recognized on the two famous figurines of the chthonian Snake Goddess discovered in the palace of Knossos. Both snake goddesses have a knot with a projecting loop cord between their breasts. In the Linear B (Mycenean Greek) script, ankh is the phonetic sign za.
The ankh also appeared frequently in coins from ancient Cyprus and Asia Minor. In some cases, especially with the early coinage of King Euelthon of Salamis, the letter ku, from the Cypriot syllabary, appeared within the circle ankh, representing Ku. To this day, the ankh is also used to represent the planet Venus and the metal copper.
David P. Silverman notes how the depiction of the ancient Egyptian ankh was preserved by the Copts in their representation of the Christian cross, the coptic cross.
The origin of the symbol remains a mystery to Egyptologists, and no single hypothesis has been widely accepted. One of the earliest suggestions is that of Thomas Inman, first published in 1869:
It is by Egyptologists called the symbol of life. It is also called the “handled cross”, or crux ansata. It represents the male triad and the female unit, under a decent form. There are few symbols more commonly met with in Egyptian art. In some remarkable sculptures, where the sun’s rays are represented as terminating in hands, the offerings which these bring are many a crux ansata, emblematic of the truth that a fruitful union is a gift from the deity.
E. A. Wallis Budge postulated that the symbol originated as the belt-buckle of the mother goddess Isis, an idea joined by Wolfhart Westendorf with the notion that both the ankh and the knot of Isis were used in many ceremonies. Sir Alan Gardiner speculated that it depicts a sandal strap, with the loop going around the ankle.
In their 2004 book The Quick and the Dead, Andrew Hunt Gordon and Calvin W. Schwabe speculated that the ankh, djed, and was symbols have a biological basis derived from ancient cattle culture, thus:
- the ankh, symbol of life, thoracic vertebra of a bull
- the djed, symbol of stability, base on sacrum of a bull’s spine
- the was, symbol of power and dominion, a staff featuring the head and tail of the god Set, “great of strength”
Egyptian academics, in particular those at the University of Cairo, argue that the ankh has been over-interpreted and that it is representative of the pivotal role of the Nile in the country. The oval head is said to represent the Nile delta, with the vertical mark representing the path of the river and the East and West arms representing the two sides of the country and their unification.
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