African spoonbill (Platelea alba) hunting a monarch butterfly (Danaus chrysippus)

Egypt, Beni Hassan, Khnumhotep II (Tomb 3), Upper Cemetery, East wall.

The insect accurately reproduces the monarch butterfly's orange, veined wings edged with black and white spots, and its spotted body. Its large eyes are an exaggeration, however. The spoonbill's beak has a jagged, tooth-like appearance, a feature that is missing on other represented birds. Although spoonbills appear to have very flat, smooth mandibles, they are in fact lined with small bumps, giving them a rough texture so that the birds are able to grip slippery prey items, like fish. Why the artist chose to highlight this virtually invisible feature is a mystery.

Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, Reign of Amenemhat II (c. 1918-1884 BCE).
Egypt, Beni Hassan, Upper Cemetery, Khnumhotep II (Tomb 3), East wall, north of entrance to shrine.
Polychrome paint on limestone (photograph).
Relief (photograph).
Parent Context
Data Credits
Compiled by Linda Evans and the Beni Hassan Research Group with resources from the Macquarie University Ancient Cultures Research Centre, and the Australian Centre for Egyptology.
Project Funding
Supported by the Australian Research Council Discovery Project scheme: DP160102223 "Measuring meaning in Egyptian art: A new approach to an intractable problem" held by N. Kanawati (MQ), L. Evans (MQ), A. Woods (MQ) and J. Kamrin (Met), the Macquarie University Department of Ancient History, and the Macquarie University Faculty of Arts.
Original Citation
N. Kanawati & L. Evans, Beni Hassan: Volume I: The Tomb of Khnumhotep II (Australian Centre for Egyptology: Reports 36, Aris and Phillips, Oxford, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-85668-846-1), pls. 65b, 104a (photograph),
Recorded and published with permission from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. Photographs by Effy Alexakis as part of research on site. Copyright Macquarie University 2018. All rights reserved.
Cite this
Linda Evans "African spoonbill (Platelea alba) hunting a monarch butterfly (Danaus chrysippus)." In The Beni Hassan Visual Dictionary: Khnumhotep II, edited by Alexandra Woods, Brian Ballsun-Stanton, and Nicolle Leary. Sydney: Macquarie University, 2018.