Numiscollect’s wide ranging look at the worlds cultural artifacts continues with the Dendera Zodiac from Ancient Egypt

Despite a debut only last year, Numiscollect’s Archaeology & Symbolism series is already up to it’s fourth pair of issues and it’s shaping up to be an elegant set of coins. Eschewing the usual gods and monsters approach to the ancient world, this series looks instead at some of the esoteric and hugely impressive cultural artifacts left behind by our predecessors.

We’ve jumped from Meso-America, through Asia, and now we’re heading to Mediterranean North Africa for that most popular and iconic ancient civilisation of them all – Egypt. This long running kingdom is certainly no stranger to the modern collectable coin world, but we’ve never seen this super item showcased on a coin before. The Dendera Zodiac is an absolutely fascinating carved rock ceiling piece that depicts in quite some detail, a map of the constellations and their associated deities in the folklore of the Pharaonic religious world.

Like the Aztec Calendar Stone design that launched this series, the use of an actual artifact as the basis for the design instead of an ‘interpretation’ of a concept seen through modern eyes, lends this an integrity and appeal that archaeology and history buffs will love. The result is a detail-packed 3oz silver coin of 65 mm diameter that does a fine job of reproducing this work from the Hathor Temple in Dendera. It’s a little hard to tell from the flat images just how the domed part is handled, but we’re fortunate enough to get an angled image of the sample coin that shows it clearly. A beautiful design that fits the series well, proof that a broader theme can work as well as a tightly ringfenced one.

While the second release was issued for Mongolia and had the appropriate obverse, this one follows the others in having the Cook Islands as its home, with the same quizzical look. As before, belatedly in the case of the first two coins, there are antique-finished coins (333 mintage) and a gilded variant (99 pieces). Both should be available to pre-order now, with shipping sometime in Q1/2020. A fine issue. The Coin Series Profile we promised last time is now live, packed with high-res images and information. We’ve added this one to it.

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THE DENDARA ZODIAC

The sculptured Dendera zodiac is a widely known Egyptian bas-relief from the ceiling of the pronaos (or portico) of a chapel dedicated to Osiris in the Hathor temple at Dendera, containing images of Taurus (the bull) and Libra (the scales). This chapel was begun in the late Ptolemaic period; its pronaos was added by the emperor Tiberius. This led Jean-François Champollion to date the relief to the Greco-Roman period, but most of his contemporaries believed it to be of the New Kingdom. The relief, which John H. Rogers characterised as “the only complete map that we have of an ancient sky”, has been conjectured to represent the basis on which later astronomy systems were based.[2] It is now on display at the Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The zodiac is a planisphere or map of the stars on a plane projection, showing the 12 constellations of the zodiacal band forming 36 decans of ten days each, and the planets. These decans are groups of first-magnitude stars. These were used in the ancient Egyptian calendar, which was based on lunar cycles of around 30 days and on the heliacal rising of the star Sothis (Sirius). Its representation of the zodiac in circular form is unique in ancient Egyptian art. More typical are the rectangular zodiacs which decorate the same temple’s pronaos.

The celestial arch is represented by a disc held up by four pillars of the sky in the form of women, between which are inserted falcon-headed spirits. On the first ring 36 spirits represent the 360 days of the Egyptian year. On an inner circle, one finds constellations, showing the signs of the zodiac. Some of these are represented in the same Greco-Roman iconographic forms as their familiar counterparts (e.g. the Ram, Taurus, Scorpio, and Capricorn, albeit most in odd orientations in comparison to the conventions of ancient Greece and later Arabic-Western developments), whilst others are shown in a more Egyptian form: Aquarius is represented as the flood god Hapy, holding two vases which gush water.

Rogers noted the similarities of unfamiliar iconology with the three surviving tablets of a Seleucid zodiac and both relating to kudurru, “boundary-stone” representations: in short, Rogers sees the Dendera zodiac as “a complete copy of the Mesopotamian zodiac”. (Source: Wikipedia)

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SPECIFICATION
DENOMINATION $20 CID (Cook Islands) $20 CID (Cook Islands)
COMPOSITION 0.999 silver 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 93.3 grams 93.3 grams
DIMENSIONS 65.0 mm 65.0 mm
FINISH Antique silk Gilded
MODIFICATIONS Smartminting Smartminting
MINTAGE 333 99
BOX / C.O.A. Yes / Yes Yes / Yes