Gallery A

Dendera Lamp
page 2
Page 1

Did The Egyptians Perfect Artificial Light?

By James Donahue

One of the great mysteries generated by archaeological discoveries throughout the world is how ancient and perhaps "primitive" people managed to cut tunnels and inscribe intricate art works on the walls of caves in pitch darkness. This is especially true in Egypt where craftsmen carved amazing images on the inner walls of great stone temples, pyramids and inside the underground structures designed as tombs for royalty.

Because of certain carved images found on the wall of the temple of the goddess Hathor at Dendera, some theorists have suggested that the Egyptians perfected a way of generating electricity and made large light bulbs to make artificial light. Norwegian electrical engineers Peter Krassa and Rainer Habeck, in a book Lights of the Pharaohs, perceived the large objects the Egyptians were carrying as electric lamps. They dubbed the name Dendera Lamp.

Of course other historians and Egyptian researchers have disputed the idea. But some scientists, like electrical engineer Zeichnung Garn-Birne, have not only supported the theory, but Garn-Birne constructed a working model of the Dendera lamp.

Whatever those objects were, they were apparently considered important to the Egyptian people since the same images appear on three different stone reliefs beneath the Hathor temple. They show a large light bulb shaped object being held up at one end by a priest with smaller figures below it, holding it up. There is a long snake-shaped cord inside the bulb which is attached to a cable at the end.

The discovery of the so-called Baghdad Battery gives credence to the theory that the ancients also knew how to generate a simple form of electrical energy. This "battery, found in various places throughout the Middle East, consists of a clay pot containing a copper cylinder and an iron rod separated from the copper by bitumen plugs. If an acidic electrolyte solution like wine, vinegar or fruit juice is poured into the pot, the device generates a direct electric current.

Thus it is possible that the Egyptians not only knew how to produce a simple form of electrical energy, but they also found a way to make a method of using it to make artificial light.

Egyptologists, however, who understand the religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, say the so-called "lamp" was really an ancient depiction of the lotus flower giving birth to the sun god, Atum-Ra. The snake in the flower, or bubble, represented Atum-Ra. The bubble surrounding Atum-Ra depicts the emergence of the universe out of nothingness.

And so the great mystery of how the ancients managed to see in the darkness to create their art remains in the midst of modern controversy. There is an element of contemporary archaeology that refuses to rewrite old history books or consider the possibility that a civilization that could move and cut massive stones to build lasting monuments was so primitive they could not invent modern technological tools like aircraft or light bulbs.