Dendera Lightbulb

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By: MacKenzie Cook

Dendera Lightbulb Depiction[1]

The Dendera Lightbulb

The concept of the Dendera Lightbulb comes from a set of inscriptions located on a chamber wall in the Temple of Hathor in Egypt. The depictions show what is theorized to be a version of a lightbulb known as a "crookes tube". [2] The pseudoarcheaological interpretation of the artifact is that of an ancient lightbulb, which is taken as proof of ancient civilizations having access to advanced technologies. The theory goes that long ago an advanced alien species came to Earth and presented certain civilizations with advanced forms of technology that would no have been attainable otherwise. This theory regarding divine intervention in technological affairs by an alien species is a common theme among pseudoarcheaologists, and one that hinders the understanding of genuine cultural evidence and artifacts tied to specific areas. The depictions are seen as representing a bulb with a filament winding through the middle, with a socket that connects a cord to a box battery underneath the bulb which is being held up by a two armed pillar.[3] But when considering the cultural and historical contexts associated with the depiction, there is a much larger story to tell. The Dendera Lightbulb is used as supposed evidence of ancient technology, much like other artifacts such as the Baghdad Battery, which is theorized to be the power source for these bulbs. The Dendera Lightbulb theory serves as a vehicle for the spread of misinformation, particularly in regard to historical and archaeological facts associated with the site and Egyptian culture in general.

History of Hathor Temple

Home to the Dendera Lightbulb, Hathor temple lies within the Dandarah temple complex south of Qena along the West Nile in Egypt. This ancient Egyptian temple remains one of the most well-preserved pieces of Egyptian Architecture to date, and contains many pieces of archaeological and cultural evidence about ancient Egypt.[4] The site on which the Hathor Temple is located has a long history, the oldest standing sites can be dated back to the 30th dynasty under the rule of Nektanebo I.[5] The Hathor temple plays a major role in Egyptian history, it was a prominent site for the cult of Hathor, and acted as a sanctuary for healing, rituals, and celebrations. Hathor temple has undergone several bouts of reconstruction over many different historical periods, but it's original construction can date back to the rule of Ptolemy XII, but wasn't completed until the reign of Queen Cleopatra VII between 54-20 BCE.[6]

Hathor Temple Depiction[7]

. The temple is marked by designs and construction from several Roman emperors but the last to have a hand in alterations of the site was emperor Tiberius nearly 185 years after construction on the site began.[8]

Uses of the Temple

The Hathor Temple played an important role in Egyptian religious practices and celebrations. It is at this very temple where important religious ceremonies were played out, such as the Sokar festival which consisted of a burial ritual led by the priestesses of Hathor also known as Senet.[9] Understanding the ritualistic and intended purposes for the temple is essential in understanding the contextual evidence that debunks the concept of the Dendera lightbulb. Many of the festivals and rituals that took place at Hathor temple revolve around the concept of death and rebirth, harkening to the temples patron the goddess Hathor and her representation as mother of the deceased.[9] Many of the depictions that are found on the walls of the temple of Hathor represents this cycle of life and death that is so closely connected to the goddess, including the Dendera lightbulb inscriptions themselves. The temple was also used as a sanctuary and place of healing, a highly religious and sacred site amidst the Dandarah plateau. As a mother goddess and a deity of fertility and healing, the Hathor Temple was designed with Hathor in mind being a center for many funerary and healing rituals. Many pilgrimages were made to the temple in the name of the goddess, for not only the ritual celebrations, but for cleansing rituals that were said to heal those who received them. Hathor Temple is seen as a highly sacred site to Egyptian mythology and history, and remains an important archaeological site to this day.

Hathor Goddess

Top of stone pillar which represents the Goddess Hathor, found at Hathor Temple[10]

The goddess Hathor plays an important and multifaceted role within ancient Egyptian culture and religion. Hathor was a many faced goddess and was a deity of many crucial cultural elements in ancient Egypt. Not only was Hathor the counterpart to major God Horus, but she was also represented concepts such as beauty, love, fertility, as well as music and dancing.[6] Hathor was a feminine goddess who was represented in many forms, suiting to her dynamic nature. She is often depicted with cow horns atop her head representing her motherly nature and symbiology. Worship of Hathor took place all throughout Egypt, but the Hathor temple is the largest and most well known site dedicated to the goddess and her partner Horus.

Pseudoarcheological Interpretation

When considering the pure lack of evidence to confirm this theory it is a wonder why the concept has gained so much main stream traction. But when considering the mysticism that surrounds ancient Egypt, it is clear that there is a popular desire to uncover hidden secrets relating to Egypt. The Dendera Lightbulb has been represented in multiple popular media sources, bringing major attention to this site. Most notably, the Dendera Lightbulb made an appearance in popular History channel original, Ancient Aliens. The concept of advanced ancient technology based on the Dendera depictions can even be found in the novel Eye of the Sphinx by the world renowned ancient alien theorist Eric Van Däniken. The mentions of this relief in the context of ancient alien theory came from two theorists, Peter Krassa and Reinhard Habeck in their novel Das Licht der Pharaonen (1992).[11] This introduction to the concept led to various mentions of the site that we see to this day. There are a few key pieces of evidence that are used to support the theory that the Dendera Lightbulb depictions represent advanced technology. The first, and one of the main pieces of evidence that is used, is the lack of black soot in the tomb that is found and associated with the use of torches.[6] Torches were the main source of artificial lighting during this period in history, a tool that left distinctive markings of their use upon tomb walls and ceilings. At the Hathor temple site, these markings are unusually absent, hinting at the possibility that an alternate light source was in use in the temple. Fringe theorists also counter the claim lack of tangible archaeological evidence by claiming that the rituals revolving around the ancient technology would have been an underground affair with the artifacts being destroyed post use.[3] While this remains a possibility, when confronted with the pure lack of factual evidence this theory loses its validity.

Lightbulb Reconstruction

Theorists have even gone as far as creating real life replications of the lightbulb that is represented in the Egyptian relief. There have been multiple Dendera lightbulb recreations in recent history. These technologically advanced creations can be found across the internet (Youtube: Dendera Lightbulb), but when observing the complexities of these creations, it puts in to question the abilities of Ancient Egyptians to create similar structures.

Deconstructing the Narrative

While the Dendera Lightbulb interpretation makes for an interesting theory, when faced with the archeological and cultural evidence associated with the site, the theory begins to rapidly fall apart. Perhaps the greatest factor in debunking the theory is the other depictions which provide context for the Dendera Lightbulb relief. By studying the actual archaeological evidence associated with the site, it clear to see there is an alternate meaning behind the depictions. Based off of gathered historic and cultural knowledge relating to ancient Egyptian religion and mythology the Dendera Light relief paints a much different picture.

Dendera Lightbulb Relief[10]


The true meaning behind the ancient inscriptions relates to the human origin story as told by Egyptian mythology. The real meaning behind the relief is a well known Egyptian creation myth. There are multiple reliefs at the site which recite this myth and the symbolism associated with the relics is well known. The believed socket which connects the "bulb" and "filament" to the "battery" is actually a lotus, an ancient symbol for life and rebirth in Egyptian mythology.[12] The "bulb" is actually representative of the primordial waters in which all living things came into existence, with the "filament" actually being a snake which represents the Egyptian God Ra and his ascent through these primordial waters into creation.[13] The Djed pillar which can be found in many Egyptian reliefs, is representative of endurance, strength, and stability.[13] The Dendera Lightbulb relief portrays a cycle of death and rebirth, the snake represents to flow of life to the hands of death represented by the god of death and underworld Osiris, who rests at the end of the bubble feature.[13] The snake could also be representative of the god Ra and his journey across the sky every morning in his sun boat, a common tale in Egyptian mythology.[2] All of these symbols are well known within the context of Egyptian mythology and there is a common understanding as the meanings behind the symbols and their importance to interpreting Egyptian records. This relief is just one of many that portrays Egyptian creation myths making it a relatively recognizable scene. Hathor temple was a religious destination with many festivals and rituals associated with the this cycle of life and death, as the goddess Hathor was the symbolic mother of both humans and gods. This relief as well as the many others on the walls of Hathor Temple, are reflective of the uses of the Temple, and provide cultural context for the religious activities being done at the site.

Archaeological Evidence

The biggest factor which proves this theory invalid is the pure lack of archeological evidence to support the claim. If ancient Egyptians were to have a form of ancient technology in the form of lightbulbs, there would surely be some kind of archaeological evidence that could provide support for such a theory. Alas, no such evidence has been found. Within the temple and in the complex there should be glass remnants associated with lightbulb technology, an archaeological feature that is seemingly missing at the site. Additionally, there is no evidence of any batteries or artifacts to be used as a power source in the archaeological record. Theorists claim that technology such as the Baghdad Battery were used to power this ancient technology, but like with glass bulb remnants, evidence of these batteries have not been found in Egypt. The lack of soot in relation to torches has been a prominent argument of fringe theorists, but through recent work on the site, large amounts of soot were actually found at the site and was cleared away. The soot was found on the ceiling of the Temple and was recently cleared away uncovering a monumental work of art in its place. This indicated that torches were indeed used inside the temple, rather than the electric technology that was claimed to exist.[14] On top of the lack of physical archaeological evidence, there is no such record, written or physical, that indicates at said advanced technology.[13] In no historical records, even in Egypt, is there mentions of a technology handed down from some advanced species, or of the use of such technology. Theorists claim that the evidence of these artifacts would have been destroyed following their ritualistic use, but surely, some mention should show up in the historical records, yet it does not.


There are many reasons as to why pseudoarchaeological claims such as the Dendera Lightbulb theory are made. The tendency to romanticize the past is one of the leading contributors to the creation of fringe theories, particularly when it comes to ancient Egypt. In modern media ancient Egypt is portrayed as mystical and secretive, propelling the interest in Egyptian based fringe theories. The sensationalizing of ancient Egypt and theories that surround it perpetuates the creation of these theories that completely ignore the historical and cultural evidence that is associated with these sites. Fame and money can contribute to the development of such theories, much like with other pseduarchaeological theories. Pseudoarchaological theories are popular among the public making these conspiracies an easy way to gain public attention. In doing so, factual evidence is ignored for the sake of entertainment and money. Overall, it is important to be critical when analyzing pseudoarcheological claims like the Dendera Lightbulb theory as they are not based on factual evidence, but more often, speculation with the goal of convincing willing individuals to rely on baseless assumptions about the past.


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