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Ancient Amulet Discovered in Cyprus with Unique Inscription

Jan 05, 2015 12:31 PM EST

An ancient amulet was discovered in Cyprus with a unique inscription - it reads the same backward as it does forward, according to a new study.

The palindrome engraving, written in Greek, translates to "Iahweh (a god) is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine," according to Live Science. Although, researchers note that in the 59-letter message the scribe made two small mistakes when writing this palindrome, in two instances writing a "ρ" instead of "v."

Amulets like the one found in the ancient city of Nea Paphos in southwest Cyprus - back in 2011 - were reportedly made to protect their owners from danger and harm.

Dating back 1,500 years, the amulet existed during the 5th and 6th centuries, when Cyprus was part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and Christianity was the official religion. However, some continued to practice traditional polytheistic (also called pagan) beliefs, as is evidenced by the engraving on the amulet, notes lead study author Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka, a Jagiellonian University professor in Poland.

It "rather seems that Christian and pagan religions coexisted in Paphos in times of [the] amulet being in use," he told Live Science.

Aside from the palindrome, the two-sided amulet also has several images, including a bandaged mummy (likely representing the Egyptian god Osiris) lying on a boat and an image of Harpocrates, the Greek god of silence, who is shown sitting on a stool while holding his right hand up to his lips.

But there are some discrepancies, Papuci-Wladyka adds, in the amulet's depictions.

"It must be stated that the depiction is fairly unskilled and schematic. It is iconographically based on Egyptian sources, but these sources were not fully understood by the creator of the amulet," Joachim Śliwa, from the Institute of Archaeology at Jagiellonian University, wrote in the journal Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization.

For example, according to Śliwa, Harpocrates should be sitting on a lotus flower rather than sitting on a stool. Even more unusual is that the drawn dog-headed cynocephalus is mimicking Harpocrates' gestures, and the fact that both figures have crisscrossing lines on their bodies, suggesting that they should be mummified.

However, mummy bandages have "no justification in the case of Harpocrates," Śliwa wrote.

This ancient amulet's curious features make it an interesting subject for future study.

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