The ancient Egyptian staff sign or god
staff ankh, which was
also the hieroglyph used to symbolize reproduction and sexual union. According to other sources
it meant life and
zest for life.
Hathor, who was both the goddess of life and the goddess of death, carried and gave life with it. The contradictory Hathor in many ways corresponds to the Venus goddesses Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Athena-Aphrodite. For a derivation of the relation between , , and , see in Group 29.
Sometimes the hieroglyph is called the key of the Nile. The symbol is associated with Imkotep (living around 3000 B.C.), physician for the Pharaoh's family. Long after his death Imkotep was made the god of medicine or healing in Egypt. That is why this symbol is used as the logotype for a multinational pharmaceutical manufacturer.
The same sign structure, but with the closed element filled in, , has been found in Peru used by the Mochica culture around the seventh century. This fact is one of the many reasons to believe in many more contacts between the Mediterranean cultures and pre-Columbian America than is accepted by today's academic establishment.