'Lions, snakes and a cat on astronomical ceiling at Dendera.'
Snakes and lions in all kind of forms populate the astronomical ceiling in the outer hypostyle hall of the Hathor Temple at Dendera. The ceiling consists of seven separate strips but here we are looking at a detail of the upper register of the SECOND STRIP WEST from centre.
The figures in this picture represent decans.
Decans were essentially 36 stars or star groups near the ecliptic whose rise or transit could be used to tell the time during the night. Eventually they were also used by astronomers as place-markers in the sky to divide up the Ecliptic in equal portions. Decans first appear during the Middle Kingdom on the inside of coffin lids, providing the deceased with his own private start clock. Unfortunately, during the subsequent centuries many different lists of decanal stars were developed and very few of these stars can be identified on a modern star map.
The decans in this register were listed by Neugebauer and Parker as belonging to the Seti I B decan family. A peculiarity of these decans is that each is associated with a certain mineral, metal or type of wood. It is mentioned in a little caption near the lower part of each figure. Thus the lion-headed seated goddess on the left represents decan number 10 and is paired off with glass and gold. The erect snake next to her is decan no. 9 and is associated with iron and gold. The snake-headed baboon, no.8, is coupled with turquoise. The cat-headed god, no. 7a, is watching over copper and gold. And the lion-headed seated goddess, no. 7 is associated with gold.
For other decanal stars in this register see picture 29572 and 29573.
This part of the Dendera Temple was built during the Roman period (first century AD). Photo Paul Smit.