Egyptian Light Bulb

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Section: Dendera.

Ancient Aliens: “Are these carvings on a wall at the Dendera complex in Egypt? To some, the strange designs look eerily similar to objects very much in use today.”

AA: “In Egypt there is this underground crypt at Dendera that was always secret and only the high priests had access to that crypt. It is very hot in there, very narrow, low ceiling, and on the walls you have these reliefs of what looks like ancient light bulbs. Because we have to question one thing: How did the ancient Egyptians light the inside of their tombs?”

This is the Egyptian light bulb theory. Let’s see what we can figure out about it.

Let’s start by listening to some of the reasons that Ancient Astronaut theorists believe it’s true.

AA: “According to most mainstream archaeologists torches were used by the ancient Egyptians to light the pitch black chambers of tombs and temples, yet nowhere on the ceilings it there even the slightest evidence of soot or smoke residue.”

It’s hard to know why they are saying this because there is black soot in almost every Egyptian temple and tomb.[1]

In fact a recent ceiling cleaning conducted at the Temple of Hathor, which is the same temple where the so-called light bulb relief is found, they uncovered a brightly colored ancient ceiling painting that had never before been noticed.[2]

What was covering it up you ask? I will quote them directly, they said the ceiling was covered with “hundreds of years of black soot”[3] That’s kind of funny, you have to admit.

AA: “Also, there isn’t enough oxygen inside those tombs with which to support or feed a flame of a torch. I was once inside the Kings’ chamber inside the pyramid of Giza and someone turned off the lights and immediately we were in pitch darkness, and I said ‘no problem, I’ll just take out my lighter from my satchel, and I turn on the lighter and it didn’t work’.”

I don’t know about his specific zippo, but there are plenty of documented explorations of the pyramids and other tombs in the 20th century which used torches to light the pyramids.[4][5]

Archeologist and pyramid expert John Romer was once asked a similar question by someone on a television show, this was his response:

“As for the soot, there is soot in the Great Pyramid from the 19th Century travelers, but most of it has been washed off. Most of the pyramids, of course, were built in sunlight. So lighting in the interior would only have been a problem after the roof went on. They would have used lamps, with salt in the oil so the flame burns very pure.”

Romer isn’t just guessing about the olive oil lamps, these lamps are depicted in Egyptian reliefs, and there are even receipts for orders of their wicks and other such evidence.[6][7]

Another thing to consider is that as far as tombs go, they weren’t expected to be lit, in fact if all went well, robbers would not be able to find a way in, and the tomb would never see the light of day ever again. That was the plan, and if it weren’t for 19th century explorers and dynamite, that plan might have worked too.

But when we are talking about temples like at Dendera, the false dilemma of not enough oxygen simply doesn’t work. The temple is much more open the oxygen levels are plentiful. They obviously used fire to light it, if for no other reason than because of the “100s of years” worth of soot on the ceiling.

Ok so the false dilemmas have been addressed, but we are still left to explain what this relief is depicting.

Let’s first hear what Ancient Aliens has to say about the mainstream interpretations of this relief:

AA: “Egyptologists’ explanation of this, and they have to have some explanation – there’s got to be one, and it has to be pretty mundane [for] it can’t be an electrical device – is that it is a lotus flower and what appears to be a bulb around [it] is the aroma of a lotus flower and so it’s just a very odd depiction of a flower.”

That is a terrible representation of the mainstream view of this relief. It’s Ancient Aliens using a straw-man argument to make their argument look superior. 

This relief is not so mystical if you have a little understanding of Egyptian art and religious symbols.

This is a variant depiction the creation of the world in Egyptian mythology.

The Egyptians believed that before anything else existed there was a vast primordial sea of nothingness.[8]

They believed that the first thing to emerge from this sea was a lotus flower.[9][10]

This is probably because the lotus closes at night and sinks underwater. In the morning it re-emerges and blooms again.

It was believed that lotus flower then gave birth to the first God who was often associated with the sun.[11] This relief was done after the God Atum was merged with the sun God Ra and thus became Atum-Re.

Atum the God who created everything else after this is actually represented as a snake.[12]

And yes it is a snake in these reliefs not light bulb filaments, you can actually see the eyes and other elements of a snake if you look closely.

This is pretty standard Egyptian mythology, that the lotus flower came forth first then the first God Atum – who was represented as a snake.

Well what about the bubble surrounding it?

I will quote an expert directly on this point

“Despite the variety of deities, the Egyptians conceived the origin of the world as singular. Only one god (Atum) was responsible for the emergence of the universe as a bubble of air in the vast, limitless, inert ocean and everlasting darkness of the undifferentiated primordial waters (Nun) that existed before creation.”

In other words the universe came forth from the lotus in a bubble of air.[13]

There are other elements of this picture that back this interpretation up.

The Universe bubble is here being supported or raised up by the Goddess Nun.[14]  Nun is the primordial waters and technically it is she that raises up the lotus, Atum, and everything else.[15]

This pose of outstretched hands is one of the more common motifs for Nun and she raises and supports the universe from nothingness.[16]

In some versions of this story the sun God represented in these scenes is Khepri who was represented as a scarab Beetle. Atum and Kephri sort of traded off being aspects of RA in Egyptian mythology.

So, in essence, you have Nun the primordial waters lifting up the solar barge of Ra for its first journey accross the sky.

And this explains why similar poses are seen in the creation account at Dendara. They are also depicting Nun raising up the universe out of her waters.

The idea that the ancient Egyptians used electricity is something that is not even hinted at anywhere else in the Egyptian records. And if you believe Ancient Aliens, they were not just using electricity but vacuum tubes, which requires high amounts of electricity, as well as rarified gasses like argon. And if this was the case we should expect to find some mention of this somewhere.

Ahh but Ancient Aliens has an answer for why we do not:

AA: “But if the ancient Egyptians had used some kind of electric light to illuminate their passageways, why does the visual evidence exist only in the ancient temple of Dendera?”

AA: “In Egypt you had different areas of specialty and Dendera was the area where the knowledge of the light-giving source was kept, and this secret knowledge was kept by the high priests. They were the only ones that were privy to this type of information, because Dendera was the special place where this specific knowledge was guarded and kept.”

Right…of course there is nothing in any text, or on any wall that would back-up anything he just said. He even makes up this phrase ‘keepers of the light giving source’ just to make it sound official.

Again it’s interesting that the temple where the knowledge of this light was kept is the same one with the 100s of years of soot on the ceiling. Maybe they were trying to save on the electric bill.

In conclusion all the reasons that Ancient Aliens says light bulbs existed in ancient Egypt such as no soot in tombs or not enough oxygen are easily dismissed false dilemmas. And the so called light bulb pictures are easily explained using standard Egyptian symbolism.


[1] Subir Ghosh. “Archaeologists Unearth 2800-yr-old Burial Chamber in Egypt.” Digital Journal, September 19, 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Al-Mamun. “Egypt – Gods, Myths and Religion”, It is recorded that following entry, Al-Mamun first crawled back up to find the original entrance, then down the descending corridor to the subterranean chamber, there he reported torch marks on the ceiling of the Subterranean Chamber.

[5] “60 Minutes.” Secret of the Pyramids: John Romer, July 15, 2007.

[6] Clarke and Engelback, Ancient Egyptian Construction And Architecture, 1930, p. 201

[7] “These lamps are sometimes depicted on tomb reliefs and often take the form of an open receptacle with a base that can be grasped with the hand” (see figure 5.8 in Arnold, Building In Egypt, 1991, page 218 for example) “Dieter Arnold mentions distribution lists of linen wicks for work in Biban el-Muluk, and Kent Weeks has found receipts on ostraca for wicks among the rubble of KV5″ (The Lost Tomb,1998). Olive oil is fairly clean burning, and the addition of salt may have help keep the soot at a minimum. It may also have been that the lamps were covered in some way to minimize smoke.

[8] Allen, James P. (2000). Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. Cambridge University Press. pp. 466. ISBN 0-521-77483-7.

[9] Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003). The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. Thames & Hudson. pp. 206–207. ISBN 0-500-05120-8.

[11] Wilkinson, Richard H. (2003).


[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.