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Monday, 23 August 2021

Mekal, Lord of Beth-Shean


This past week was the final session of the Egypt Centre’s short course on the Gods, Goddesses, and Demons of the Ancient Egyptians. For this session we examined foreign and child deities. At the end of each week, I would show an image of a “mystery deity” for participants to identify for the following week. These were quite difficult and included Iatdit (a goddess associated with Dendera), Biket (a female falcon-headed deity at Edfu), and Mestjet (a leonine deity depicted on a stela from Abydos). Thus, at the end of week 4, I showed them an image of the mysterious foreign deity (fig. 1). Around five people managed to correctly identify the deity as Mekal, with many others suggesting Reshep.

Fig. 1: Mekal, Lord of Beth-Shean

The primary evidence for the god Mekal is a limestone funerary stela, which was found in 1928 at Beth-Shean (northern Palestine) during excavations of the University of Pennsylvania Museum. The stela, which is now housed in the Israel Museum (IAA S-982), depicts an Egyptian architect named Amenemope and his son, Pareemheb, in the upper register worshipping a deity called “Mekal (mꜥ-kꜣr), the Great God, Lord of Beth-Shean”. The register below this depicts two figures (particularly destroyed) before three columns of hieroglyphs (fig. 2). Based on the palaeography of the hieroglyphs, the stela likely dates to the Nineteenth Dynasty.

Fig. 2: Mekal Stela

The stela features Egyptian, Asiatic, and mixed elements. This includes the was-sceptre and ankh-sign being held by Mekal, two well-known Egyptian items. The curved bead and horned headgear with streamers are characteristic of an Asiatic deity. The uniqueness of the stela—being the only depiction of Mekal known—has resulted on numerous discussions on its content. Many scholars focus on the identity of Mekal, linking him with the Canaanite gods Reshep or Baal, or even the Egyptian god Seth. This blog post does not attempt to add to the discussion, but instead will highlight a plaster cast of the stela (EC1305) in the Egypt Centre collection (fig. 3). Readers who are interested in the content of the stela should see the recent discussion by Levy, which is cited in the bibliography below.

Fig. 3: Plaster cast of the Mekal stela (EC1305)

EC1305 is a plaster cast of the Mekal stela, which arrived to Swansea in 1971 as part of the distribution of the Wellcome collection. The cast carries the Wellcome acquisition number A131980. The Wellcome flimsy slip for this number reveals that the cast was presented to the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (WHMM) on the 26 November 1933 by “Mr. Starkie; by the Department of Antiquities of Jerusalem” (fig, 4). “Mr. Starkie” is none other than James Leslie Starkey (1895–1938), a noted British archaeologist of the ancient Near East and Palestine in the period before the Second World War (Bierbrier 2019, 442). He was the chief excavator of the first archaeological expedition to Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir) from 1932 to his death. The excavations at Lachish were funded (from 1932–1939) by the Wellcome-Marston Archaeological Expedition, which is presumably why Starkey was acquiring objects for the WHMM. In fact, the Egypt Centre has four copper alloy weapons/tools (W502–W505), which are listed as private purchases by Starkey while in Palestine during the 1932–33 season.

Fig. 4: Wellcome flimsy slip for the Mekal stela

Unfortunately, the life of Starkey was tragically cut short when, on the 10 January 1938, he was murdered on his way from Lachish to Jerusalem (fig. 5). Garfinkel (2016) notes that the murder has been presented as just one more of the insurgency episodes that were so common in those days. There was, however, a conflict at Lachish with the local landowners regarding the excavation of the site’s summit, the expedition’s preferred area. An amicable resolution of this conflict was never reached between the two sides, and only legal expropriation of this land by the Mandatory Government of Palestine enabled the excavation of the upper part of the site. The landowners never received full compensation for the expropriated land, undoubtedly a strong motive for revenge. Archives (WA/HSW/AR/Lac/B.13) in the Wellcome Collection provide details about Starkey’s murder, including reports and newspaper clippings of the time.

Fig. 5: Notice about Starkey (WA/HSW/AR/Lac/F.7)

The cast of the stela of Mekal has recently been moved to a new display case in the Egypt Centre called Egypt and its Neighbours. This case, which was funded by the Institute of Classical Studies, presents objects from Greece, Rome, Cyprus, Nubia, and the Ancient Near East. The installation of this case was completed just two weeks ago (fig. 6) and will be officially presented to the public by Dr Ersin Hussein at the Egypt Centre’s fiftieth anniversary conference on 15–17 September. Tickets for this free event are available via our Eventbrite page, so come along and join us if you can!

Fig. 6: Cast of the stela on display in the new Egypt and its Neighbours case


Bierbrier, Morris L. 2019. Who was who in Egyptology, 5th revised ed. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

David, Arlette and Ernest Bumann 2016. Mikael and Mikeset in Beth Shean. Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 42 (2015–2016), 113–123.

Eggler, Jürg 2006. Mekal, in: Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East: Electronic Pre-Publication:

Garfinkel, Yosef 2016. The murder of James Leslie Starkey near Lachish. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 148: 2, 84–109.

Levy, Eythan 2018. A fresh look at the Mekal stele. Ägypten und Levante 28, 359–378.

Lipiński, Edward 2009. Resheph: a Syro-Canaanite deity. Studia Phoenicia 19; Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 181. Leuven: Peeters.

Münnich, Maciej M. 2013. The god Resheph in the Ancient Near East. Orientalische Religionen in der Antike; Oriental religions in Antiquity 11. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Rowe, Alan 1928. The new discoveries at Beisan. Discovery 9 (101), 137–141.

Rowe, Alan 1928. The 1927 excavations at Beisan: final report. The Museum Journal 19 (2), 145–169.

Thompson, Henry O. 1970. Mekal: the god of Beth-Shan. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Wimmer, Stefan Jakob 2000. El, Mekal and Ramses: the statue from Beisān again. Journal of Palestinian Archaeology 1 (2), 32–35.

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