‘Palmiform’ columns
An alternative design source
in Mummies, magic and medicine in ancient Egypt
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Of the various column types encountered in the stone-built architecture of Pharaonic Egypt, those used in temples seem to have been constrained by religious tradition to a limited number of canonical forms that changed in design only slowly over the millennia. One type of column first appears in stone in the Old Kingdom, and was still widely used in Ptolemaic and Roman structures, where it can be seen alongside the highly elaborate capitals of the Egyptian ‘composite’ forms in the same portico. This is the type known as ‘palmiform’ because of its resemblance to Egypt’s ubiquitous date palm trees. By Ptolemaic and Roman times, it is clear that these columns were indeed seen as imitations of date palms: for example, the carving of their capitals sometimes included the representation of bunches of dates, and the top of the column shaft below the capital was in some instances carved to imitate the trunk of a palm tree. However, there are a number of factors that point to an alternative origin for their design, and the placement of the columns in prestigious locations at the entrance to Old Kingdom temples brings into question the palm-tree interpretation. The author contends that it is possible that they were intended to imitate much-prized and decorative ostrich feathers bound around a wooden pole. This article explores the development of this column type and the reasons for proposing this alternative design source.

Mummies, magic and medicine in ancient Egypt

Multidisciplinary essays for Rosalie David


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