Mythological Baboons

At Luxor (ancient Thebes) four sacred stone baboons stand in a row on the pedestal of the remaining obelisk at the mortuary temple of Ramesses II (reigned 1292 – 1225 BCE) – it’s twin stands in the Place de la Concorde, in Paris.  The hefty, imposing figures represent the male hamadryas baboon – so sacred to the ancient Egyptians that many were ritually mummified after death.  A frieze of carved baboons guards the entrance to one of the massive, rock-cut temples at Abu Simbel, southern Egypt – located above the heads of the colossal statues of Ramesses II.  The latter was a major site for sun worship.  Mythologically, the ancient Egyptians translated the baboons’ early morning ritual of grooming – with front feet raised – into a ritual of sun worship.

The hamadryas baboon (Papio hamadryas) ranges from northeast Africa – mainly Ethiopia – to eastern Sudan, northern Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  The species, however, extinct in Egypt.  Found – usually close to water – in hilly areas, mountains, meadows, and in arid subdesert, the baboons are mainly terrestrial, but often sleep in trees and on cliffs.  A varied diet includes grass, fruit, seeds, insects and small mammals.  The male baboon is distinctive, with furry silver-grey to white mantle and pink face.  Hamadryas baboons have a highly structured social system, the basis of which has been considered patriarchal, each male having a small group of females and their young.  This primate is classified as of Least Concern (LC) on the Red List and on Cites Appendix II.


See also:   In Quest of the Sacred Baboon: A Scientist’s Journey, H. Kummer and M. Biederman-Thorson, 1995.

Illustrated Guide to Luxor Tombs, Temples and Museums, Kent R. Weeks, 2005.

Abu Simbel Aswan and the Nubian Temples, Marco Zecchi, 2004.