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The 360 degree view from the Lyre trig is worth the climb
The 360 degree view from the Lyre Trig
is worth the climb

In response to the many requests that regularly come to Archaeological Diggings, I decided for once and for all to check the claims made for the so-called "Gosford Glyphs" located near Kariong, about 60 km north of Sydney. Following a suggestion made by a regular reader of AD, I made an appointment with Neil Martin, Ranger with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) at Gosford who recently took me on a guided tour to the site. This was my third visit to the cleft in the rock where about 100 Egyptian-looking hieroglyphs carved into the sandstone cliffs have given rise to all sorts of speculation about their age and significance.

The carvings are located within the Brisbane Water National Park inside a rock cleft that the local NPWS people refer to as the "Kariong Egyptoid" site.   However, access is through private property and visitors should get permission to enter.   Alternately, they can access the site through the national park via the "Lyre Trig" mountain above the site.   The road rises gently to the summit of the mountain (241 m) and is well worth the half-hour climb because of the breath taking 360-degree view right over the Central Coast and down as far as Sydney.   (Some locals have whimsically identified a nearby flat rock as a landing site for a space ship!

The area around Lyre Trig is famous for numerous Aboriginal carvings, including figures of giant kangaroos, men holding nulla nullas and spears, as well as carvings of hands and tools.   The Aboriginal carvings, many in very inaccessible places, have been well researched and their positions noted long before the discovery of the so-called Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The entrance to the cleft in the rocks
The entrance to the cleft in the rocks

At southern base of the Lyre Trig, in a very accessible location, two parallel sandstone cliffs, 1.5 m apart and 3 m high, run up the hill for about 15 metres.   On both cliffs there are carved familiar Egyptian hieroglyphs, but among them are some stranger figures-a stick man hanging out the washing, a dog's bone, a very un-Egyptian bell and several symbols. that look like flying saucers.

Alan Dash, a surveyor with the Gosford City Council between 1968 and 1993, first noticed the carvings about 1975.   Thoroughly familiar with the area, he revisited the site several times over the next 5 years, each time observing that more and more carvings appeared on the rock face.   He considered the engravings the work of an irresponsible vandal.

Neil Martin himself found the man responsible.   "In 1984 I was in the area helping to put out a fire", he told me.   "As I came around the base of the hill, I could hear a noise like someone chipping stone.   I walked over to the cleft and found an old Yugoslavian man, chipping the stone with a Sidchrome cold chisel.   Because this was national park property, I confiscated the chisel and the man left. Because he was mentally handicapped, we took no further action, but I later gave the chisel to the local historical society.   We never saw the old man again."

Since 1984 the cleft has gradually filled with leaves, fallen stones and dirt.   However, the site has gained notoriety and taken on "spiritual significance".   Since the 1990's, various people have illegally dug between the cliffs - whether for treasure or looking for mummies is not clear.   The NPWS rangers regularly confiscate tools and hammers left at the site.

One of the so-called 'cartouches'
One of the so-called

Much has been made of the supposed "age" of the inscription, suggested by the green lichen covering many of the hieroglyphs.   Neil pointed out that lichen grows very quickly in the damp cleft.   Growth is prolific in the presence of naturally occurring nitrates but even people touching the rock face transfer nutrients to the rock and this encourages the lichen to grow.   Neil pointed out that gardeners sometimes paint a pottery garden pot with milk so that lichen will grow quickly and give the pot that "aged" look. This is a common technique used to hide scars made in rock.

Some of the Egyptoid carvings at Kariong appear to be smooth, giving them the false appearance of age.   This is due to weathering in the sandstone rock, but differences in mineral content of even the same slab of sandstone will produce different degrees of weathering. However, most of the Egyptoid carvings still show crisp, sharp edges indicating recent cutting.

Mr David Lambert is an expert in rock art and in 2001 was the Rock Art Conservator of the Cultural Heritage Division of the NPWS.   In 1983 he visited the site and saw the engravings freshly cut into the rock.   The inside of each carving consisted of clean white sandstone with no evidence of organic or surface lichen growth, indicating the carvings were less than 12 months old.   Pictures taken in 1983/1984 by the NPWS show the fresh cut roek and the spalling around the edges of the engravings indicating very recent carving.   By contrast, the many genuine Aboriginal carvings in the area are much more rounded and smooth. Most of the Aboriginal carvings in this area have been dated to between 200 and 250 years old.

Photographs of the hieroglyphs taken in 1983 were sent to ProfNageeb Kanawati, head of the Department of Egyptology at Macquarie University, Sydney.   Part of his reply to the NPWS reads: "I examined [the photographs] and think that the engravings are the work of someone who perhaps visited Egypt or saw some postcards of Egyptian monuments and wished to have some graffiti of what he saw.   It is true that most of the signs' are Egyptian, and two names of kings may be recognized, but the whole thing does not make sense at all.   Simply a decorative graffiti using Egyptian signs".

Some of the more recently added glyphs. All the glyphs show sharp edges consistent with being recently carved in the sandstone
Some of the more recently added glyphs.
All the glyphs show sharp edges consistent with being recently carved in the sandstone.

New carvings are being added to the site from time to time.   Even on the day of my visit, Neil pointed out several new glyphs carved since his last visit, and indeed, the scratches in the rock were made into clean, white sandstone.

Much has been made of the names of two kings that appear in adjacent "cartouches" (although it is significant that the Kariong cartouches are squared, not rounded).   The two names are that of Khufu and an unknown person but could be "Neferankhru" which is similar to one of the names of Khufu's father, Sneferu.   The two names are coupled together under the same nomen and prenomen, indicating that the two names belong to the same person - unthinkable from our knowledge of Egyptian history.   As one Egyptologist has commented, coupling the names together was the equivalent to spiritual suicide because it would separate the "ba" or soul from the creative essence of the body.

There are many other mistakes in the inscription.   Some hieroglyphs are drawn incorrectly or face the wrong way, while at least one title, "Son of Re", was not used until well after the time of Khufu.   Other hieroglyphs represent names from different periods of Egyptian history, separated by hundreds of years, which further indicates the inscription is a modem graffiti rather than an authentic ancient artefact.

Egyptologist Dr Gregory Gilbert concludes that the inscription is clearly a modem forgery, and not a good one at that.

Some of the glyphs are not Egyptian, and many that are Egyptian are incorrectly written. Some Glyphs refer to Egyptian names that are hundreds of years apart but the overall inscription conveys no meaning whatsoever!
Some of the glyphs are not Egyptian, and many that are Egyptian are incorrectly written.
Some Glyphs refer to Egyptian names that are hundreds of years apart but the overall inscription conveys no meaning whatsoever!
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The NPWS gets several calls a week from people convinced the glyphs were either carved by ancient Egyptians visiting Australia several thousand years ago, lost Phoenician sailors or by men in space ships.   On an average weekend, dozens of people on a "spiritual search" hike through the bush in search of the "energy" supposedly generated at the site.   As Neil pointed out, such beliefs may be valid, but shouldn't be used to rewrite Australian or Egyptian history!

Actually the carvings are part of genre of art and architectural styles triggered by the archaeological discoveries in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   The discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb, in particular, sparked a round of movies, novels and memorabilia in the 1920's and 30's.   Indeed, the "Tutmania" continues unabated today.   It is no surprise then to find carvings of this nature in the rock and they have a valid place in Australian culture.   Another example is the carving of the sphinx alongside a miniature pyramid made by Private Shirley in the national park near the road from Turramurra to Bobbin Head, in the northern suburbs of Sydney.

The NPWS is slightly annoyed with the carvings because of the number of people who want to see them, the Internet sites suggesting they have ancient origins and the environmental damage done by visitors.   The Gosford City Council has even received letters from visitors upbraiding the council for not doing more to conserve the "ancient" site and urging it to provide better public access.

Deciding that it is better to join the tourist trade rather than fight all the visitors, the NPWS runs tours through all the Central Coast's national parks.   Known as the "Discovery Program" the NPWS offers 4WD tours, overnight camping trips, canoeing in the local rivers as well as guided walks, including walks for the over 50's.   On request, tours can include the Egyptoid site at Kariong.   There is a charge to cover costs, but bookings are welcome by phoning the NPWS on (02) 4320 4205.

Copyright 2003 - David Coltheart

This Article first appearred in
Archeological Diggings
Vol 10 No 5 Oct/Nov 2003
Issue No 58

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