Alien : Evolution of the Space Jockey via
the Egyptian Book of the Dead:
The Henu Barque
(AKA The Sokar Funerary Barque)

"Pilot in Cockpit" (work 380) (1978) by HR Giger

a)  Towards the Henu Barque
a.i) It looks at me  as if Giger appears to have taken the design of the Space Jockey in another direction far beyond Ridley's initial concept, for a good couple of decades I wondered what exactly it could have been, to me it seemed as if there was some completely unimaginable source of inspiration that took the the direction of the design into something incomprehensibly different.
a.ii) If there was a mysterious sculpture or design to know about from the Ancient Egyptian traditions I didn't know about it.

Perhaps Giger's painting Necronom IV featuring the creature that inspired the main structure of the final alien life form design in the movie was also loosely inspired by the same images of the funerary barque.
Henu Barque from Papyrus of Ani.

b) My introduction to the Henu Barque 
b.i)  "The Egyptian Book of the Dead" exhibition at the British Museum 
On January 14th 2011, I went to see "The Egyptian Book of the Dead" exhibition at the British Museum

When I looked at the section displaying the the Papyrus of Ani, a very curious detail jumped out at me as it if were a strange creature with a rib cage extending behind it and a long legless trunk like body and an animal head at the top of the body supported by a cradle with three pillars.

I immediately thought that this could easily be the inspiration for a Giger biomechanoid.

This small image was in fact a depiction of a Henu Barque that was a sacred bark/ barge dedicated to the funerary god Sokar.

b.ii) Obvious Egyptian imagery in Giger's work
We had seen his obvious use of the sky goddess Nut in the Life Cycle hieroglyphics tableau, and we might well see enough from the image from Ani's version of the Book of the Dead in the Space Jockey to how this is a key structure that served as a basis for the Space Jockey and its chair.
We can also know about how Giger often visited an Egyptian mummy at his local museum in Chur, Switzerland as a child

However there was absolutely nothing in the book H.R.Giger's Alien about this matter regarding the Henu Barque,  it was not mentioned at all in any of the known books or interviews with Giger but, but we know that he does draw ideas from Ancient Egyptian Culture from looking at his paintings.

drawing of the Henu Barque from the temple of
Ramesses II

A diagram that I have made to explore the way
that the image of the Henu Barque was adapted by Giger

"Pilot in Cockpit" (work 380) (1978) by HR Giger

c) Referencing multiple Henu Barques
c.i) Despite all we have discovered about the evolution of the space jockey's seat from the Necronom V painting through  Ridley Scott's storyboard, we can take a step back and examine Giger's final Space Jockey design and note the strange bulbous structure projecting from it's back and the three pillars that make the support frame connected to the runners of a sledge, have become the support frame for  the space jockey's telescope.

c.ii) The presence of the horizontal structures such as the curving pipe as seen in the fourth image down on the right or if not, the sledge runners are likely to have inspired the horizontal pipes at the base of the Space Jockey's seat.

c.iii) Giger ought to have been familiar with more than one version of the Henu Barque if the horizontal pipe at the bottom was based on the pipe shown in the second image of the funerary bark.  

c.iv) Other versions of the image of this type of Henu Barque found around the internet show a much larger precise image of the barge but with four pillars, but the writer here would perhaps find it less easy to recognise it as something transformable into a space jockey along with its seat. See link to images at the bottom  

See:  Depictions of the Henu Barque.


d) Referencing a falcon head
d.i) Someone might have the view that if the boat images contained a telescope, it might seal the whole statement that this was the inspiration.
d.ii) Giger's earlier sketch for a space jockey chair design, work 340c from Giger's Alien, p39 where there is a telescope that might be considered roughly like a giant stylised falcon head shape ending with a sharp beak tip where the Space Jockey's telescope eyepiece would be, and on the barque itself, this is where a small falcon head would be found.

Early drawing of the Space Jockey , work 340c,  for Alien by HR Giger (1978)
(source Giger's Alien , p39)

Enlargement of detail

On the final painting, the space jockey's visor in conjunction with the shape of his helmet provides a stylised falcon like representation when rotated to the left
space jockey and visor become stylised falcon head

f) Von Dänikenisation
This process of using a strange ritual image left behind from an ancient civilisation and re-imagining it as an alien in its pilot seat can be said to be cheekily labeled as "Von Dänikenisation" as if inspired by Erich Von Däniken's idea that the sarcophagus lid of the Tomb of Pakal, depicted an astronaut in a rocket ship cockpit.  

See:  Inspired by "Erich Von Däniken?"


  1. I refer you to "Prometheus and the Eagle" a plate in the Vatican City museum collection. it features a recumbent figure and an attacking eagle in very much the same poseas the Space Jockey and the "birdlike" telescope.

  2. okay I couldn't access that URL but here is a link to it for other people to see and indeed i can see how you would make the connection there.

  3. Hello Wmmvrrvrrmm, hope you're in fine fettle and that this is the right spot for an Egyptian diversion.

    I'm very taken with your explorations into the Book of the Dead and its latent influence on Giger and the Space Jockey. It is the one, the only thread that connects the human and the alien designs. Especially in Ron Cobb's Egyptian Wing Logo.

    Forgive my ignorance in this matter, which has probably been explored at length, but is the Wing Logo drawn from the motif found on the door lintels of the Second, Third and Fourth Gilded Shrines and the Canopic Chest from the tomb of Tutankhamun?

  4. well, I have to say that I don't know what the exact origins are because I haven't read anything from Cobb where he has said anything directly about its origins, but the concept of the Winged Sun Disk had been going on for a good long while before Tutankhamun, but what we see on the canopic chest does bear a lot of similarity in the simplicity although it's very flat at the top and the Tutankhamun treasures were still in people's minds just about, but for all I know there might have been a few of these images throughout Egyptian history looked at to get the full idea for the design. It's rather amusing to think that Bentley and Chrysler used to used the winged sun disk for their logo.

    1. Thanks for the kind reply.

      I agree with your point- the Winged Sun IS old and in no way restricted to Tutankhamun or even Egypt itself. I think it's fair to say though that when Carter opened that tomb it immediately became a goldmine (quite literally) of design inspiration- the likely source of the entire Art-Deco movement and possibly even more importantly as far as Alien is concerned, the Streamline Moderne discipline. The signature softly radiused corners and mouldings of the style are all over the Nostromo interiors and here's a bit of fun just for you-

      Presenting the Henry Dreyfuss Model 150 Vacuum Cleaner complete with full Alien head motor housing-

      (I'm not suggesting for a minute that this was Giger's inspiration, but I can guarantee you'd have a lot more fun doing housework chores with one of these)

      The Bentley and Chrysler logos are a brilliant connection, one I'd never noticed before!

  5. There is definitely an art deco influence on the Nostromo interior, but I am looking to see if Mayan influence has been talked about

  6. Well, I have to say now that the hypnotic looking puffy patterns on the wall in the Nostromo eating area just smack of Mayan hieroglyphs to me