Archaeologists in Cyprus have uncovered a mysterious ancient two-sided amulet, inscribed on one side with a 59-letter palindrome. The amulet was unearthed from a dig site in the ancient city of Nea Paphos in southwest Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean.
A palindrome is a series of letters and words that reads the same as forward as it does backwards. Written in Greek, this particularly palindrome translates as: "Lahweh is the bearer of the secret name, the lion of Re secure in his shrine."
The opposite side of the amulet features a series of images, including images of the Egyptian god Osiris, Harpocrates, the god of silence, as well as a dog-headed mythical being who appears to be mimicking the pose of Harpocrates.
The ancient pendant has been dated at roughly 1,500 years old; it was discovered by a group of archaeologists with the Paphos Agora Project, an effort organized by researchers at Polland's Jagiellonian University.
Paphos is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is cherished by archaeologists and antiquities scholars for its remains of villas, palaces, theaters and tombs.
"The site is of exceptional architectural and historic value," UNESCO contends. "The mosaics of Nea Paphos are among the most beautiful in the world."
Researchers say the amulet is evidence that people living on Cyprus continued to practice traditional, polytheistic beliefs well into the 5th century, even as Christianity became the official religion under the rule of the Eastern Roman Empire.
"[It] rather seems that Christian and pagan religions coexisted in Paphos in times of [the] amulet being in use," lead researcher Ewdoksia Papuci-Wladyka told Live Science via email.
The images on the amulet also suggest that its maker was limited by only a crude understanding of ancient Egyptian mythology.
"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, an archaeology professor at Jagiellonian, explained in a journal article on the discovery.
The amulet's unearthing is detailed in the latest issue of the journal Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization.