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The Ancient Connection: Taweret, Whales and Egypt’s Prehistoric Seas

Updated: Apr 2

In the heart of Sub-Saharan Africa, hippos, those magnificent semi-aquatic giants, roam the rivers, lakes, swamps, and floodplains. These creatures, equally at home on land and in water, once played a profound role in ancient Egyptian culture. But this isn’t just another tale from the annals of Egypt; it’s a journey back to a time when ancient deity, the Neteru, reigned millions of years ago—a story backed by scientific evidence.


Taweret and Egypt's prehistoric whales

Before the pharaohs, before the pyramids, protective amulets adorned with the likeness of female hippopotamuses existed. These amulets date back to the Predynastic period and persisted through Egypt’s rich history, spanning the Ptolemaic Kingdom and even the Roman era (332 BCE – 390 CE). Today, you can still find miniature statues of the Neteru, particularly Taweret, in Egyptian souvenir shops.


Hippo Amulet Egypt
Hippo Amulet ca. 3700–3450 B.C. Metropolitan Museum of Art

But let’s rewind further, beyond the first known humans, to a time when Egypt was not a land of pyramids but an ancient sea. Approximately 41 million years ago, this region was submerged, teeming with marine life. Among its secrets lies the Phiomicetus Anubis, a four-legged whale discovered in Egypt’s Western Desert. The fossilized remains of P. Anubis offer glimpses into the early evolution of whales—how they transitioned from land-dwelling creatures to fully aquatic beings. According to the research team, this species likely walked on land as well as swam in the ocean during the middle Eocene Epoch.


What truly captures our imagination is the remarkable similarity between P. Anubis and the divine figure, Taweret. In ancient Egyptian mythology, Taweret is often portrayed as a bipedal female hippopotamus. She possesses pendulous human breasts, the powerful limbs and lion-like paws, and the sinuous back and tail of a Nile crocodile. Interestingly, P. Anubis shares these same features, including mammalian rib structures, an expandable abdominal area for holding placental young, paw-like limbs, and long neural spines on the anterior thoracic vertebrae, all culminating in a long, thick tail.


Phiomicetus Anubis
Phiomicetus Anubis, a four-legged whale discovered in Egypt’s Western Desert
Taweret
Taweret

Now, you might wonder why we have delved into the world of whales rather than focusing on hippos. While this might surprise you, scientific research has unveiled that hippos and whales are each other’s closest living relatives. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences solidified this relationship, revealing that hippos and whales share a common ancestor whose evolutionary paths diverged over millions of years. The common ancestor was a four-limbed, semiaquatic mammal known as a “walking whale” that branched off into two separate directions: anthracotheres (a group of unusual land animals) and cetaceans (which became whales, dolphins, and porpoises).


The only surviving descendent of these land animals is the hippo, making its distant cousin the whale its closest surviving relative! Could it be possible that what we've found in Egypt's Western desert, P. Anubis, is their relative the "walking whale"? And is the ancient Egyptian deity that we know as Taweret, a representation of this ancient ancestor? If so, are we ready to push our estimate of the dawn of ancient Egyptian civilization back at least 34 million years?


Whippomorpha
Whippomorpha, source Wikipedia

Taweret, the Enigmatic Ancient Deity


Leaving the middle Eocene Epoch and journeying back to ancient Egypt we find evidence that the hippopotamus deity exists from the time of the Old Kingdom (around 2686–2181 BCE) in the Pyramid Texts, the oldest preserved religious text in the world. These texts mention the goddess as Ipy, a forerunner of Taweret, and succinctly demonstrate her nurturing role. The hymn announces that the deceased king will receive nourishment from the deity as he ascends to the heavens—a testament to the enduring reverence for these remarkable creatures.


380: The father of Unas, Atum, seizes the arm of Unas and he assigns Unas to those gods who are quick and clever, the Never-setting Stars (Circumpolars). 381: Mother of Unas, Ipy, give to Unas this your breast, that this Unas may pass it over his mouth, that he may suck this your white, clear, sweet milk. 382: That land into which Unas goes, he will not thirst in it, he will not hunger in it, eternally." -- Pyramid Text, Antechamber, South Wall

In ancient Egypt, the deity emerges as multifaceted figures, known by various names across different epochs and regions. They fulfilled roles akin to that of Taweret, and some may have even represented aspects of the same divine entity. As Ipy, she presided over fertility and the cycles of life. Her name, meaning “she who is great,” evoked reverence and awe. In Theban theology, Ipy played a pivotal role as the mother of Osiris. Her nurturing embrace cradled the god of the afterlife, guiding souls through transformative journeys. At Karnak, she was hailed as Ipet—a guardian of sacred spaces and a symbol of divine protection. In the Demotic Magical Papyrus, she assumed the mantle of Apet, the nurturing mother of fire—a force both creative and destructive. As Taweret, she embodied both ferocity and protection, standing as a guardian of childbirth, shielding mothers and infants from harm. She also facilitated the soul’s rebirth—a bridge between life and the beyond.


In the present day, female hippos exhibit remarkable maternal care. They form strong bonds with their calves, keeping them close during their early days, often swimming alongside them in the water. The mother provides nutrient-rich milk, ensuring the calf’s growth and development. She shields her offspring from potential threats, such as crocodiles or other predators. Calves learn essential behaviors by observing their mothers—grazing, swimming, and interacting with other hippos. Social interactions within the pod contribute to the calf’s understanding of hippo society. Hippos live in social groups called pods or bloats, where other adult hippos also participate in calf care. Even female hippos without offspring often assist in protecting the calf. By around eight months of age, the calf begins to eat solid food, gradually becoming less dependent on its mother’s milk. By the time it reaches a year old, it is mostly weaned.


Egypt's Prehistoric Seas


Egypt shares a connection with other cultures through the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, where it was believed that Phiomicetus Anubis resided. These cultures share similar tales of a creature held in high regard. In various other cultural contexts, echoes of Taweret’s essence resonate through mythological beings and ancient narratives.

  • Chinese Dragon: Traditionally described with the horns of a stag, the forehead of a camel, the eyes of a demon, the neck of a snake, the belly of a sea-monster, the scales of a carp, the claws of an eagle, the pads of a tiger, and the ears of an ox, the Chinese dragon mirrors Taweret’s multifaceted nature.

  • Indian Makara: This creature, part mammal and part fish or seal, embodies both terrestrial and aquatic realms—a kinship with Taweret’s dual aspects.

  • Cetus in Greek Mythology: The term “cetacean,” referring to whales, traces its origin to Cetus. Like Taweret, Cetus straddles realms—earth and sea.

Across different civilizations, Taweret’s influence extends beyond Egypt, connecting diverse mythologies through shared themes and creatures.


Puyang Dragon Burial
Puyang Dragon Burial, with the earliest depiction of a Dragon in China, Yangshao culture

References


Bianucci, G., & Gingerich, P. (2011). Aegyptocetus tarfa, n. gen. et sp. (Mammalia, Cetacea), from the middle Eocene of Egypt: clinorhynchy, olfaction, and hearing in a protocetid whale Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 31 (6), 1173-1188 DOI: 10.1080/02724634.2011.607985

Kellogg, R. 1936. A Review of the Archaeoceti. Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington. 1-366, 37 plates.

Maier, G. 2003. African Dinosaurs Unearthed. Indiana University Press: Bloomington. p. 10

 

About the Author

Mohammad Awyan Archaeo-Acoustics & Sound Healing Egypt

Mohammad is the grandson of Abd’el Hakim Awyan, a famous Egyptian wisdom keeper known for his work on the Pyramid Code. Mohammad and his family have lived on the land at the base of the Sphinx and Pyramids for many generations. Since childhood, he has studied the mysteries of Egyptian archaeoacoustics and sound healing with his grandfather and other scholars. Mohammad has a bachelor’s degree in tourism and has hosted several successful tours of Egypt, sharing his wealth of knowledge and expertise to help people answer questions about Ancient Egypt that they may not have been able to answer before. His personal expertise is religion, spirituality, and the ascension of human consciousness. He has been on tours with his equally famous uncle Yousef Awyan and had many discussions with other researchers of Egyptian history, archeology and energy like Ibrahim Karim, Hugh Newman, Andrew Collins, Robert Schoch, and Brien Foerster. In addition to this, he has studied hieroglyphs with Professor Mohamed Hassan Gaber. Mohammad is also the founder of Archeao-acoustics & Sound Healing, a website dedicated to sharing information about the different manifestations of vibrational energy in Egypt. He currently resides in Giza with his wife and family. You can find more information about Mohammad at archaeo-acoustics.com



Embark on a Healing Journey in Egypt! Join Amanda and Mohammad this October to delve into the ancient history of Giza, experience the soothing sands of the Siwa oasis, ascend Mt. Sinai, and explore the depths of the Red Sea—all in a single transformative trip. If your Egypt visit falls outside October, consider a private tour tailored to your schedule, starting at just $31.25 per hour based on availability.

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