About 3000 BCE, an ecological event occurred that affected the natural range of the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis). At the end of the Neolithic pluvial (a geological wet, or rainy, phase), which lasted until about 2500 BCE, what had been savanna dried up; many of the trees, on whose leaves giraffes fed, disappeared and desert conditions prevailed in northern Africa. Thus, while prehistoric rock drawings around the Nile Valley had teemed with giraffes, they were portrayed only occasionally thereafter, as in the hunting scenes in the tomb of Weh-hetep at Meir or in the New Kingdom tombs of Huy and Rekhmire, where Nubians and Puntites were shown bringing giraffes to Egypt. In the tomb of Rekhmire, a small green monkey was portrayed climbing up the neck of a giraffe as it would a tree. Those giraffe were not native to Punt but were brought there from the sub-Saharan interior to be shipped to Egypt. In the Puntite village scene preserved on Queen Hatshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri, a giraffe was depicted.
The Egyptians valued giraffes first and foremost as denizens of their zoological gardens. In addition, their spotted skins were used to make coverings. Giraffe tails were brought via the southern lands to Egypt as tribute. From the fine, long black hair of the tail, the Egyptians made wigs, long ribbons such as the one the king wore over his shoulder during hippopotamus hunts, and woven armbands.
While the giraffe seems to have had no sacred qualities attributed to it, some Egyptologists have sought to identify the animal associated with the god Seth—a creature difficult to identify zoologically—as a giraffe and to see its head as the model for the royal was-scepter. Indisputably, the giraffe has made contributions to Old Egyptian in the word sr, meaning “to announce,” “to foretell,” “to proclaim,” or “to prophesy.” Those verbal associations were based on its 2 to 3 meter (6 to 10 foot) neck.
- Drenkhahn, Rosemarie. Darstellungen von Negern in Ägypten. Hamburg, 1967.
- Reisner, George A. Excavations at Kerma. Harvard African Studies, 6. Cambridge, 1923.
- Säve-Söderbergh, Torgny. Ägypten und Nubien: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte altagyptischer Aussenpolitik. Lund, 1941.
Emma Brunner-Traut; Translated from German by Julia Harvey