A masterpiece of ancient Egyptian art has been discovered in a palace. It is so detailed that researchers have identified the bird species it depicts. These images of the natural world most likely created a space in the palace for relaxation and recreation.
The artwork was discovered in Amarna, the capital city of Pharaoh Akhenaten (1347–1332 BC). Excavations in 1924 revealed a palace belonging to Meritaten, the pharaoh’s and Nefertiti’s daughter. The palace has several lavishly decorated rooms. The so-called Green Room is one of these. The room features a rare depiction of birds in a wild papyrus marsh with no signs of human activity.
Despite their high quality, these images have received little attention. As a result, not all of the bird species depicted in the artwork had been identified in the nearly 100 years since it was discovered.
So, Dr. Stimpson and Professor Kemp set out to identify the Green Room’s birds. To identify the birds, the pair used modern ornithological data and a high-quality copy of Nina de Garis Davies’ 1924 artwork. Their work has appeared in Antiquity.
Several species, including shrikes and wagtails, were eventually identified by the researchers. These join the previously identified kingfishers and pigeons. They also discovered that the artists may have left clues for ancient birdwatchers. A triangle is annotated on migrant birds. It may indicate a seasonal element in the artwork.
The artwork could also depict an ancient Egyptian pigeon problem. Although rock pigeons are depicted, they are not native to the papyrus marshes. They are instead associated with nearby desert cliffs.
While the researchers cannot rule out this possibility, they believe the artists included the birds to make the scene appear wilder and untamed. According to the team, these images of the natural world have made the Green Room a relaxing environment.