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Friday, 13 November 2015

Daemon snakes and green skinned goddesses

Been finding out a bit more about this, W1307.

I thought is showed the ouroboros, a symbol of eternity,  surrounding Isis. It appears I was wrong. A really good PhD thesis by Dana Reemes shows that the idea of the snake biting its tail as a symbol of eternity did not come in until much later. Instead, this snake, which isn't biting its tail is more likely to be a protective symbol surrounding the deceased as the solar-Osirian unity. Snakes like this appear on several coffins of the Priests of Montu at found at Deir el Bahri.

Moreover, this is actually the upper foot part of the coffin, designed so that it could be seen by the deceased. So, if we looked at it on the complete coffin it would appear upside down.

Anyway, if you are interested I have more on the fragment here.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Amarna, looking at flints, playing with dogs!

I know loads of you will disagree but I find the whole business of the royal family at Amarna, who succeeded whom, etc., a bit dull. I'm not really interested in who Smenkhkare was, or Nefertiti. What I do find interesting is the fact that this site is really good to study New Kingdom Egypt more generally. It has a relatively short chronology, so not so much intrusion from earlier or later periods than on many other sites. Also it's a big site with several different social/technological areas so it gives some idea on how ancient Egyptian society and technological changes worked. And, of course, lots of settlement type artefacts as opposed to purely funerary ones.

What's this leading too? I am interested in lithics, so have felt very privileged to be allowed to study the lithics at Amarna. In 2009 I looked at the material from Panehsy's Great Aten Temple House (associated with cattle butchery). There is a brief report here (see page 7). Then, a couple of weeks ago I went to look at material from other areas of Amarna. Many, many thanks to the Middle Egypt inspectorate of the Ministry of Antiquities, especially Inspector Marwa Ahmed Osman, and also to the Amarna Project directed by Barry Kemp

I arrived in Cairo at the end of September. A small team of us traveled from Cairo to the Amarna dig house. For those of you who are used to digging in the UK, the dig house at Amarna is very civilised with showers and proper rooms with beds (no camping in a field). We even had fans to keep us cool. And, it also looks very pretty. Here it is. There is a police HQ right outside to keep us all safe and a couple of lookout towers.

On the 1st of October the magazines were opened under the watchful eye of the Inspector. How this was done was a bit like an ancient Egyptian ritual. The brick blocking to the magazine was knocked down with hammer and chisel, etc. Then the lead seal on the door was checked by the Inspector Marwa Ahmed Osman. Here she is checking the seal to make sure it wasn't broken. Yes, a lady Inspector (well I liked that).

The artefacts we were all working on were taken into the dig house. Chris Stimpson from Oxford was making a study of bird bones. Gretchen Dabbs from the Southern Illionois University was looking at human bones from the North Cemetery. And, William Schaffer, from the same University, was looking at teeth and how very small variations in them could be used to study ancestry. All much more exciting, in my opinion, than the identity of Smenkhkare. 

And here is my work station. The flies were more annoying than the heat! I have yet to write up a proper report so wont tell you about that in detail now. However, it can be said that as one would expect in a late Bronze Age culture, the lithics were largely expedient tools. That is, most weren't deliberately made to a particular shape. Rather, they consisted of flakes and blades which would be selected and used as and when needed. This would be a very efficient way to use the material. A freshly knapped flint flake would be much sharper than a metal knife. There were one or two, what one might call 'formal' tools, mainly sickles and round scrapers. Several different types of flint was used.

And back to life in the dig house. We were fed and the site generally looked after by the Amarna Project's Egyptian team. The cook is excellent! 4 cats help keep the rodent population down. Here is one eating a hoopoe bird (a snake was eaten the day before). Bit sad about the bird as there had previously been two hoopoes.

Outside the dig house, on the way to the toilet block, we would often encounter the dogs. Most of the dogs around Amarna are semi-feral and bark and growl. They have grown used to people throwing stones at them. However, two dogs were really, really friendly. I really wish I could have 'rescued' them and brought them home. They were mother and daughter. The daughter wanted to play and would cling onto your clothes when you went back to the dig house. Here they are. The photograph was taken in the morning. The mother is on the left.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Plaster casts, class and art. CIPEG 2015.

We have a handling tray of real ancient artefacts (not masterpieces) for all visitors to enjoy at the Egypt Centre because we believe in the importance of handling the real thing (see the picture)

But have still been thinking about some of the things I learnt from CIPEG 2015. Something that came out time and time again was how in the early days of museums (what one might consider early varied from museum to museum), copies of masterpieces could be held to be more important than ‘second rate’ actual objects. Interesting and completely opposite to what I had hitherto believed. I always like the idea of the real object, even if grotty because of its magical contagion value. That’s why I got interested in ‘old things’ and ended up working in museums, because ‘old things’ are somehow linked directly to the past and can somehow transport you there. And of course, I have grown up in the modern western tradition with its emphasis on ‘authenticity’ (whatever that means). So, my take on plaster casts was that they may be beautiful but they are only real in so far as there post manufacture history is concerned. If they had value it was more to do with the recent past, perhaps as evidence for changes in what was considered important in Egyptology. Additionally, to be honest, I don’t know what masterpieces are. I believe others claim they have to be aesthetically beautiful and fairly rare? So a beautiful black-topped redware pot wouldn’t count as a masterpiece. What if it was an unusual shape?

But to return to the point, it seems that generally the real artefacts, even if common and ugly have gained more importance, particularly in the 20th century. So how and why did things change? Well, I have read some interesting stuff by Alice Stevenson. It can be accessed here. She shows how the partage system and Petrie’s distribution of finds to museums meant that the ‘grotty’ items, typical of most archaeological excavations, became increasingly valued. At CIPEG 2015 we learnt from Alice Williams (an ex- Egypt Centre volunteer now doing her PhD at Oxford :-) ) about how Petrie’s exhibitions of items in London were so well attended. Maybe these exhibitions too helped show ‘the general public’ what real excavated remains were like, that they were rarely masterpieces of ‘art’, but nevertheless of value.  Additionally too, one may expect that the increase in the belief in the importance of ‘science’ and technology, also meant that everyday artefacts were more valued.

But, I am wondering if there could be a class element to all this?  Could it be that the masterpieces were more inclined to be valued by those well-educated, elite individuals with the necessary training, those brought up learning the classics and appreciating art?

One might argue that archaeology is associated with the non-elite, technology and archaeology; and classics with the elite and written text. Chris Stray has written on this. The growth in the importance of the everyday object, as opposed to the masterpiece, could also be bound up with increasing influence by the non-elite, less interested in aesthetics and more interested in technology? Perhaps it’s still so. There are different tribes in Egyptology. I wonder if the backgrounds to those interested in ‘art’ differ markedly from those interested in say, technology?

I am also thinking, should we make more use of our plaster casts? We only have a couple, but they are copies of famous things elsewhere. Should we use them in teaching? As CIPEG taught me, other museums do. Nika Lavrentyeva gave an excellent talk on the use of plaster casts in the Pushkin Museum. I’m not sure I feel so excited about copies as the real thing, but maybe that is a result of my background. 

Stray, C., 1998. Classics Transformed. Schools, Universities and Society in England, 1830-1960. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Useful enquiries

Sometimes museum enquiries seem time consuming and not at all useful to the museum. In fact, for this reason some museums have considered charging. We don't at the Egypt Centre, which is just as well as often our enquiries are interesting and lead to additional information about the collection.

We recently had a very useful enquiry which led me to look in a bit more depth at one of our objects and showed that we had catalogued it incorrectly.

W1371, picture above, had been incorrectly catalogued as coming from Deir el Bahri, of course it doesn't! This was pointed out to me by an academic researcher doing some work on Deir el Bahri, who was asking if we had artefacts from her site. It actually comes from Kurna, on the west bank at Luxor and is from the mortuary temple (the temple where offerings were given to the dead king) of Thutmose III. As it says in the square top left it comes from the Heneket-ankh (which means 'Offering Life'.

So, I looked into this a little more. I don't really know much about it. And, in doing so, learnt all about how temples on the west bank were altered to accommodate the increasing numbers of priests carrying the sacred barques (model's of boats in which statues of gods were carried) in procession. Well, obviously, if you have more people carrying the barque you have to widen the doorways. I also learnt about the excavations at the Heneket-ankh.

Then I revised the online information we have here on the actual piece.

So, thank you very much to our enquirer.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Professor George Kerferd

Today a visitor came to the Egypt Centre asking about Professor George Kerford (January 15th 1915 to August 15th 1998). We unfortunately don't have much on him here in the Egypt Centre, but a quick bit of googling showed he was born 100 years ago, so it is fitting to blog about him. His obituary in the Independent newspaper can be read here

However, we know that he collected a few items for the Classics Department at Swansea University in the 1950s and 60s. We also have an account of his setting up a small museum at Swansea University, long before the Egypt Centre. The account was written by Gwyn Griffiths who knew him. And here is the account (see page 6).

We have been able to identify some of the items from that 'proto-museum' which are now in the Egypt Centre. These include:

W1011, the replica bust of Nefertiti which welcome visitors to our Centre. There is a lot more about this on a previous Egypt Centre blog, here. It seems probable that it was made from the Berlin original by the sculptor Tina Wentcher (also known as Ernestine Haim). She produced a number of replicas in the years following World War I and there are now many examples scattered throughout the world. 

Other items that we can connect to Kerford, include:

This is a black red figured drinking cup. It shows a seated satyr facing right with drinking horn on his right side and wine skin over his left shoulder. It dates to around c500 B.C. Satyrs were daimones of the countryside, depicted depicted as having the tail of a horse, assinine ears and upturned pug noses. They are usually shown drinking, dancing or playing musical instruments. The name kylix was used in antiquity to refer to this shape of vessel.

GR29 (left) is a black-figure lekythos. Lekthoi were used for storing oil. It shows dancing tailed satyrs and women. There are bulls painted around the shoulder of the vessel. Like the kylix above, this dates to around 500BC. 

GR28 (right) is a black polished red-figured jar with handle(NOICUS). This is an oinochoe (wine jug). This piece was made in southern Italy, c. 400 B.C. The mouth is trefoil (in the shape of a clover leaf) and the figure represents a seated Dionysaic figure with tail holding an offering plate and a plant. A wave pattern runs around the foot of the vase and egg-moulding occurs above the figure. 

Finally we have GR25, a Corinthian Aryballos (oil flask). Painted on it are a siren (bird with human head) and a swan. This dates to the late seventh century BC. The term 'aryballos' is now given to vessels with a round or ovoid body, narrow neck and broad flat lip. Arabolloi are common in Corinthian ware. 

I never met Professor Kerferd, but he seems to have been an interesting and entertaining person. The Independent obituary says this : He enjoyed his life. At a conference when some of his colleagues were bemoaning their inadequate pay, he burst out that he himself would gladly pay for the privilege of a life spent in studying Classics; remuneration was a bonus.

And, I am grateful for his collecting of items, now housed in our Museum. He should certainly be remembered.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

A happy looking Bes

Just been trying to find out more about this rather happy looking Bes. Bes was a good, protective daemon daemon (well usually). Associated with children and women in childbirth, marsh scenes, music and dance. Sometimes though he does look a bit fierce (perhaps intentionally to scar away anything bad).

Here though he looks really happy, with a chubby face and flaring nostrils.

This object is made out of faience and is probably part of a vessel shaped in the form of Bes. It probably dates to around 600BC. If you want to know more about it click here.

You can also find out about other blog posts I have written which are about this daemon by clicking on 'Bes' on the right here.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Now here's another weird thing!

What is he holding?

This is a black granite or granodiorite sculpture of male holding two long objects. We do not know what the items are and assume them to be vases. We know of no comparable examples.

The object is probably Middle Kingdom (c.2030-1640 BC).

From the side it appears that the figure is kneeling, which is compatible with figures shown holding vessels (though not usually ones quite like this).

That this is made from hard stone suggests that this item belonged to a noble and indeed the inscription on back states that the man is the Steward Iwf.

This was formerly part of the Rustafjaell collection purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome at auction in December 19th-20th 1906, lot 219. Published in Malek (1999, 382). For more information on Middle Kingdom art see Bourriau (1988).

Further reading

Bourriau, J. 1988. Pharaohs and Mortals. Egyptian Art in the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Malek, J.,  Magee, D. and Miles, E. 1999. Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings, VIII, Objects of Provenance Not Known, Part 1. Royal Statues. Private Statues (Predynastic to Dynasty XVII). Oxford: Griffith Institute.

Russmann, E.R. 2001. Eternal Egypt. Masterworks of Ancient Egyptian Art from the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Early Dynastic Status Symbols- stone in funerary contexts

W401b is a squat, breccia round-based bowl with lugs. It measures 18cm in height. The lugs have no holes through them, which may suggest that the vessel was unfinished, or its purpose was symbolic.

Vessels such of these would have been laborious to make and their manufacture may well have been a royal monopoly. Thus, it has been suggested that they are status symbols or ‘powerfacts’. They are only found in the graves of the wealthy and some even have gold leaf on them. A number are inscribed with the names of kings and from the names it appears that some kings took vessels of other kings for their own funerary complexes. It is also seems likely that kings may have given gifts of stone vessels to courtiers and members of their family.

This type of vessel dates from the Predynastic Naqada II Period to the 5th Dynasty, though is most common during the 1st to 3rd Dynasties, the heyday of Egyptian stone vessel production. It has been estimated that more than 40,000 stone vessels were put in the step pyramid at Saqqara alone! Large numbers have also been found at Abydos and smaller numbers elsewhere in Egypt. You can see more vessels of this date elsewhere in this gallery.
This example is made from limestone breccia. Pottery vessels are sometimes found with spiral patterns, like the one on the right, suggesting that they were copying breccia examples.

It is sometimes said that the reason why so many stone vessels are found in graves, particularly in the Early Dynastic Period, is because stone is an eternal material. It is therefore particularly suitable for burials. The vessels do not seem to have had an ‘everyday’ purpose. A number are not properly drilled out suggesting that they are only symbolic.

Red breccia is found at several sites on the west bank of the Nile. It’s use seems to have declined from the 4th Dynasty. It is only used occasionally in later periods. For the manufacture of stone vessels see Stocks 2013.

We do not know where in Egypt this object came from. Sir Henry Wellcome purchased it at auction in 1906 from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell.

If you are interested in other stone vessels in the Egypt Centre, and even a podcast about ancient Egyptian stoneworking,  click here.

Further Reading
Aston, B. G. 1994. Ancient Egyptian Stone Vessels. Studien zur Archäologie und Geschichte Altägyptens 5. Heidelberg

el-Khouli, A. Egyptian Stone Vessels. Predynastic Period to Dynasty III. Typology and Analysis, Mainz am Rhein, 1978 (3 vols.)

Stocks, D.A. 2013. Experiments in Egyptian Archaeology: Stoneworking Technology in Ancient Egypt

Friday, 31 July 2015

Lions and beds

Big thank you to Alison and Phil John for restoring our lion bed to its former glory.

Here are a few pics of its reinstatement:

Our lion bed is used to support Bob, the dummy mummy's, journey to the afterlife.

The ancient Egyptians decorated furniture such as beds with the legs of lions and some were made even more lion like by the addition of heads and tails.

The Egypt Centre has a couple of legs in the Egypt Centre which are in the shape of lions:

W1309a, right, is on display in the woodworking case upstairs. Doesn't he look splendid? Lions are associated with rebirth and thus were often used to decorate funerary beds from the New Kingdom. If you look at our replica you might notice a strong resemblance between the golden funerary beds of a well known New Kingdom Egyptian king!

And here we have a close up of a stela in the Egypt Centre showing Anubis (or a priest with Anubis mask) carrying out a mummification rite on a body which is on a lion bed:

Winifred Needler gives a good outline of such lion beds.

Needler, W. 1963. An Egyptian Funerary Bed of the Roman Period in the Royal Ontario Museum. Toronto.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Daemons 'playing drums', mummy bandages and sky journeys

Very interested to read Rita Lucarelli's article yesterday. I'm certainly not an expert on the Book of the Dead, not indeed daemons, so advance apologies to Rita if I misinterpret her. Her paper can be seen by clicking here.

Basically, it is about mound 14 from the Book of the Dead Spell 149. This mound is one of several illustrated on copies of Book of the Dead Spell 149, and one through which the deceased had to travel in order to get to the afterworld. Rita compares demons from the Book of the Dead papyri with other daemons which appear to be very similar from elsewhere. She concludes that the daemons seem to be very similar to those describing the journey of the sun boat across the sky, a means by which the deceased shared in the sun god's daily rebirth and the annual Inundation of the Nile, another rebirth trope.

So, we haven't got a mound 14 on any of our Book of the Dead fragments, but we have got a fragment of mummy bandage showing Spell 149, and the first 5 mounds. That's it on the picture above. It shows 5 mounds, each with a daemon. The one second from the right looks like he is playing a drum! More about the fragment here.

I am wondering if  the other mounds in this Spell too, show any comparison with journeys across the sky? Certainly the Four Sons of Horus, which you can see on the far right of our papyrus, are associated with the Northern Sky, and rebirth. In Book of the Dead 17 the Four Sons of Horus are associated with the bull's leg in the sky (the ancient Egyptian constellation Msxtyw). The Northern Sky is, in its turn associated with the Inundation, the Imperishable ones, as well as the vigil of Osiris, all rejuvenating factors.

I understand Rita is writing up an article on the other daemons in Spell 149, when it's published expect another blog on this piece!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Scantily clad dancers again - red in tooth and claw!

Recently writing a review of Wofram Grajetzki'sTomb Treasures of the Late Middle Kingdom. The Archaeology of Female Burials. And very good it is too. He discusses Middle Kingdom elite female burials and divides them into groups. One group, largely of young women who have the title 'King's Daughter' are very often found with some rather special jewellery. Claw amulets are one element, like EC1025 which we have in the Egypt Centre (shown here, left). They were worn on the ankles of the women.

I did wonder if these type of burials are associated with the khener (a particular type of dancer) and paddle dolls (we have one in the Centre) as written about by Ellen Morris. The only known depiction of a woman wearing them seems to come from the tomb of Wakhai II, at Qau el-Qebir. She seems to be a dancer.

That aside, the claw amulets are not only pretty but intriguing. Are they associated with birds of prey, or with felines? An argument could be made either way. I have put a bit more about them here.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Bits and bobs from Amarna - excavating in the stores

Following from last Saturday's visit by Carl Graves from the Egypt Exploration Society (EES), I have been having a quick look at the material he has put up on flickr, archive cards from the EES. And, guess what, I have found one or two bits and bobs that we have in our collection which are from Amarna. Some I didn't even know were from Amarna.

For example: This faience pulley/spool, EC492. If you click on this link, you will see the EES card for it.

And, looking in the 1951 Pendlebury volume (The City of Akhenaten III, Text, page 137) shows that it was believed to have come from an area considered to be the military and police headquarters. The cards show several other pulley like objects, mainly of pottery from Amarna.

Something else I noticed just browsing through the EES cards. Doesn't Bes look Syrian at Amarna?

Friday, 12 June 2015

Faience fish dishes: Cosmetic palettes, tableware, or something else?

Preparing for the joint Amarna handling session with the Egypt Exploration Society which takes place tomorrow. I thought we could have a look at some of my favourite objects from Amarna- the fragments of fish dish. Here is one, W1269: It is part of a faience dish in the shape of a fish, glazed inside and out with the fins acting as handles. It's very much like the stone and wood examples, of which we have examples in the Egypt Centre, and which are usually considered cosmetic bowls. Some examples are also made of travertine. These fish dishes belong to a wider group which includes trussed gazelles, ducks, etc. Click on the link here for information on the stone and wood fish examples.

We also have other pieces, and the Petrie Museum has several too (e.g. UC473, UC474, UC478, UC23079, UC23081, UC23082, UC23083, UC23084, UC23085).

The ones in the Egypt Centre came to us in 1978, as a donation from the British Museum. We know they are from Amarna as they still bear the excavation numbers which show they came from the state apartments of the Great Palace (Pendlebury 1951, 74).

Previously, Petrie had also found fragments of faience fish dishes, together with faience tiles and shallow dishes in the shape of gourds in the Palace store-rooms (Petrie 1894, 12, 28). Petrie suggested that these were table dishes and that they were gathered together so that the pieces could be reused.

But, can other explanations be plausible?

As stated above, they are very similar to the stone and wood palettes of the 18th Dynasty. The stone and wood examples are usually found in temple and tomb contexts suggesting a ritual function and they are usually said to be cosmetic palettes rather than table dishes. But, I don't know of any studies showing what they actually contained. I would be glad if someone could tell me. Friedman (1998, 223) has also suggested that these faience types could be 'cosmetic palettes'.

The fish dishes also bear a strong resemblance to the late Middle Kingdom to Second Intermediate Period Marl fish dishes found on such sites as Kahun (Petrie 1891), Tell el Dab'a (Bader 2001) and Dashur (Allen 2011). Like the faience fish dish fragments, the marl examples are often found broken in groups, suggesting to Allen, some ritual significance. This is reinforced by the fact that the marl dishes are often, though not exclusively, found in temple and funerary contexts. The Middle Kingdom examples are in the shape of shallow fish and often have a raised rectangular area (unlike the Amarna faience ones).

Incidentally, it has been suggested that the s-'tiles' as identified at Petrie, alongside the shallow dishes were actually the lids of the fish dishes (Müller 1964, Friedman 1998, 223 and 236 notes 68 and 69).

It has also been noted that both the Middle Kingdom Marl dishes and the Amarna faience dishes have some resemblance to the faience marsh dishes - round dishes in blue faience often with aquatic scenes (Kronig 1934).

Why the fish? The fish is the bulti fish (Tilipa nilotica) which seems to have been a manifestation of the sun-god. The fish keeps the fertilized eggs in its mouth until they are fry and spits them out. It therefore appears to be swallowing them and giving birth to them.

Fish-shaped cosmetic palettes would make sense either for temple contexts (anointing statues) or in burial contexts. In either case rebirth symbolism would be apposite. Eye-paints and ointment were essential to resurrection. Before appearing in the 'Hall of Justice' the individual had to purify her/himself, dress in white clothing, make-up their eyes and anoint themselves. Applying eye paint also seems to have been part of everyday cult rituals. Depictions of cows destined for ritual slaughter are sometimes shown wearing eye-paint!

So then, elite tableware, cosmetic palettes, or something else?

Allen, J.S. 2011. Fish dishes at Dashur. In Aston, D. Bader, B., Gallorini, C., Nicholson, P. and Buckingham, S, (eds.). Under the Potter’s Tree. Studies on Ancient Egypt Presented to Janine Bourriau on the Occasion of her 70th Birthday. Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters, 3-15.

Bader, B. 2001. Tell el-Dab`a XIII. Typologie und chronologie der Mergel C-ton keramik. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Friedman, F.D. ed. 1998. Gifts of the Nile . Ancient Egyptian Faience. London : Thames and Hudson.

Krönig, W., 1934. ‘Ägyptische Faience-Schalen des Neuen Reiches. Eine motivgeschichtliche Untersuchung’, MDAIK 5, 144-166.

Müller, H. 1964. Ägyptische Kunstwerke, Kleinfund und Glas in der Sammlung E, und M. Kofler-Trunger (MÄS 5). Berlin.

Pendlebury, J.D.S. 1951 The City of Akhenaten Part III The Central City and Official Quarters, Volume I. London : Egypt Exploration Society.

Petrie, W.M.F. 1891. Illahun, Kahun and Gurob 1889–1890. London: D. Nutt.

Petrie, W.M.F. 1894. Tell El Amarna. Warminster: Aris and Phillips.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Weird things used in the Opening of the Mouth ritual

The Opening of the Mouth ritual was used to bring the mummified dead and also statues 'back to life', or rather to imbue them with some life-like qualities. Most Egyptologists know about the flint knife, the peseh-kef being used for this (please don't confuse this with the fish-tailed knife); which was altogether 'another kettle of fish'!

Here is a pesesh-kef (this example is from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 11.765)

Here is a fish-tailed knife from the Petrie Museum (UC10244).

And if you want to know why they are different the best paper is Thomas Hikade's 'Getting the Ritual Right'. You can find it online here. And he has lots of references about the things. I would like to 'talk' more about these because they are flinty, but must move on....

People also know about the model adzes waved in front of the mummy too. Here you can see a detail of a piece of the Book of the Dead in the Egypt Centre showing the priest on the far right waving things at the mummy. The adze is on the top of his heap of magic tools and you can see the foreleg of an ox under that.

And, if you want to know more about this fragment of the Book of the Dead, click here.

Well what about this:

Things like this have proved a bit of a mystery to Egyptologists, and have been considered granaries or even cosmetic containers! However,a few years back I was privileged to hear Silke Grallert talk about them. It seems they were used in the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony from the 26th Dynasty. And if you want to know more, here is the link.

Of course, I can't actually resist flints. So, a picture, not very good I'm afraid of some miniature polished stone knives from a photo I took in Cairo Museum in 2003. They are from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Similar ones were found in KV55. Their context suggests they were part of the 18th Dynasty Opening of the Mouth 'toolkit' put in tombs. Such things aren't listed in texts, or drawn on tomb walls in association with the Opening of the Mouth ritual.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Why the green face Ptah?

Ptah, the god of craftsmen has a green face. You can see him second from the right on this tomb fragment (more about that through clicking here).

But why the green face? In the literature it is often stated that it is because the green is a reference to the newness of the vegetation growing alongside the Nile after the annual inundation. Indeed he often has the epithet nfr Hr (Lüscher, 246) which fits. Nfr, is often translated as ‘beautiful’ but it has connotations of newness and youth, so a green face could indeed be described as ‘nfr’. The plant association seems to be at least partly correct as Tatenen who is associated with vegetation is also shown green, but then again, he is linked with Ptah.

He is also green as he is in a transformative stage, of becoming a divine form, a mummy. Mummy's were not just dead bodies but something more like statues of gods, indeed, like statues of gods they could be revived through the Opening of the Mouth ritual.

So, Ptah, the mummy is undergoing a transformation? So it would seem. 

The whole idea of mummies being trasformed into gods is also made explicit by Chapter 151a of the Book of the Dead. This appears on several mummy masks, including, one of ours, W920. This Chapter describes the face of the deceased in terms of gods and indeed the whole process of mummification was concerned with making the deceased godlike. And so in Chapter 151a, the deceased is described as nfr Hr, and the Chapter is often illustrated on tombs, etc. by Anubis carrying out a mummification. Anyone in a stage of transformation is obviously going through a new stage and thus has to be nfr. Osiris, also sometimes shown as a mummy is also called nfr Hr.


Lüscher, B. 1998. Untersuchungen zu Totenbuch Spruch 151 Wiesbaden: Harrossowitz Verlag.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Hatshepsut, drunkenness, sexuality and faience balls

I've just come across Betsy Bryan's uploaded paper here (Bryan 2014). I had heard about her work, but shame on me, I never read her paper. And it is worth a read.

Anyway, within it (on page 110), I saw a faience ball which looks remarkably similar to three faience balls which we have in the Egypt Centre. To the right is a picture of ours and click here for more information on them.

Betsy interestingly suggests that faience balls like this might have been associated with the ritual of 'striking the balls' which is illustrated on the Deir el-Bahri Hathor Chapel of Hatshepsut and is associated with the Festival of Drunkenness. Here is a picture of it, on the right, from Naville's 1901 publication. The balls represent the eyes of the enemies of the sun-god, these could represent the aggressive or vengeful aspects of the Eye of Re himself. In certain ancient Egyptian myths the Eye of Re is sent out by the sun-god to destroy human kind. The god changes his mind and the Eye needs to be destroyed or placated. The first written example of this myth, The Return of the Distant One occurs on one of the four golden shrines of Tutankhamun where it is called The Destruction of Mankind. Once Hathor is placated she revives her father through her sexuality.

While the balls can of course not be proven to be associated with such rites they do seem to have had some votive purpose and were associated with Hathor (references from the Egypt Centre web site link here)

As well as the myth of The Return of the Distant One, alcohol and music played important parts in the festivals of drunkenness, as well as young women taking on the guise of Hathor. I have wondered if these young women are the adolescent but unmarried daughters of the tomb owner (nfrwt) and whether one of the items we have in the Centre relates to this, our Amarna lute player ring bezel, pictured here on the left (Graves-Brown 2014). More information on this item can be found here. This would mean that objects such as this were ritual rather than purely sensual.

One might ask why the nfrt, the adolescent, unmarried daughter was considered particularly powerful. There is evidence that women were considered to have a dual nature, mirroring the goddess Hathor, and that female sexuality was considered dangerous and in need of taming. For a bit more on this see a previous blog and Kasia Szpakowska's comments on it.  Xekalaki (2007: 48–49) discusses the taming of the daughter through sexual activity and motherhood. This idea is given support from a passage from the Instructions of Ani urging a man to take a wife and teach her to be a ‘human’, thus implying that women were only considered fully adult once they had married (Toivari-Viitala 2001: 52–53). Adolescence is a liminal time, and cross-culturally, the liminal is considered perilous.

This might explain the presence of semi-clothed young women in tombs, they were mirroring the revivication role of Hathor. Indeed, a similar idea is suggested for New Kingdom royal daughters by O'Connor (2010). The daughter appears to revive the father through inebriation and music, and in The Return of the Distant One Hathor is appeased through music and drunkenness and in her turn revives her father through sexuality. The festivals depicted on tomb walls seem most likely to have been amalgamations of several festivals in which the deceased would wish to partake, (Harrington 2010/14), though the Hathorian daughterhood and revivication through her sexuality could be vital.

So thank you to Betsy for food for thought, and as usual some speculation.

Bryan, B.M. 2014. Hatshepsut and Cultic Revelries in the New Kingdom, In eds. Galán, J.M., Bryan, B.M. and Dorman, P.F. Creativity and Innovation in the Reign of Hatshepsut. Occasional Papers of the Theban Worshop. 2010. Chicago, 93–125.

Graves-Brown, C.A. 2014. A Gazelle, A Lute Player and Bes. Three Ring Bezels from Amarna.In ed. Dodson, A., Johnston, J.J. and Monkhouse, W. A Good Scribe and an Exceedingly Wise Man. Studies in Honour of W.J. Tait. London: Golden House, 113–126.

Harrington, N. 2010; 2014/in press 18th Dynasty banquet scenes: ideals and realities, In C. Draycott (ed.), Dining and death: interdisciplinary perspectives on the "funerary banquet" in art, burial and belief, Leuven, Paris. A copy of the unpublished paper can be downloaded from: https://usyd.academia.edu/NicolaHarrington/Papers (accessed Dec 2013).

Naville, É, 1901. The Temple of Deir el Bahri Part IV. The Shrine of Hathor and the Southern Hall of Offerings. London: Egypt Exploration Society. Pl. 100.

O’Connor, D. 2010. The King’s Palace at Malkata and the Purpose of the Royal Harem,  In eds. Z. Hawass, Z. and J. H. Wegner, Millions of Jubilees. Studies in Honor of David P. Silverman, Vol 2. Cairo, 55–80.

Toivari–Viitala, J. 2001. Women at Deir el–Medina. A Study of the Status and Roles of the Female Inhabitants in the Workmen's Community During the Ramesside Period, Leiden.

Xekalaki, G. (2007) Symbolism in the Representation of Royal Children in the New Kingdom. PhD, University of Liverpool.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Hippos for rejuvenation

If you are looking for a gift associated with this season of revival why not buy a hippo!

It seems well known that hippopotami are dangerous animals, and so for the ancient Egyptians they were symbols of aggressive protection and even of evil (we have a statue of Seth as a hippo in the Egypt Centre, but more on that another time)

Hippos, were also for the ancient Egyptians symbols of greed, they were called 'water pigs', but also rebirth and regeneration. The obvious example of this, is of course Taweret, and I've blogged about her previously (you can follow the labels on the right here and click on Taweret).

As symbols of rebirth and regeneration they were popular on amulets for the dead, such as the one here, on the left. The newborn king was said to be nourished by the milk of a hippopotamus goddess

As hippos live in the fertile Nile mud and river, no wonder they were associated with new life. To reinforce this connection with new life, some model hippos were made in faience and decorated with new marsh plants. There is one such example in the British Museum. The colour blue was associated with the heavens, water and the Nile, and thus futher reinforces the rejuvenating aspects of this animal.

Unfortunately we don't have such a beautiful faience hippopotamus in the Egypt Centre collection, though we do have a copy of one which we sell in our shop, so I shall just show you the picture of her here (right). Isn't she sweet?

Monday, 30 March 2015

Easter, Onions and Sham el-Nessim

So Easter is coming up and the Egypt Centre is preparing. The festival of Easter originally derives from earlier pagan festivals associated with spring and rebirth, which is what we are going to celebrate in the Centre. So coming up we have children’s workshops ‘The Magic of Mummies’ from 7th-10th April. If you are looking for a non-fattening Easter treat you could do worse than to purchase from our shop. Our shop has loads of things to do with rebirth and Egypt, such as jewellery decorated with flowers and also scarabs.

So what has this got to do with onions? Well the link is the modern Egyptian festival of Sham el-Nessim (literally smelling the breeze) which falls on the day after the Coptic Christian Easter and is celebrated by both Muslims and Christians. The day may possibly date back to an ancient Egyptian festival!

It is said that the festival takes its name from the Egyptian harvest season, called Shemu. Over time the ancient name Shemu morphed into the Arabized Sham el-Nessim. In the modern festival traditional food is eaten such as feseek (a salted grey mullet), lettuce, onions, lupin beans and coloured boiled eggs.
In his book, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, Edward William Lane wrote in 1834:
A custom termed 'Shemm en-Nessem' (or the Smelling of the Zephyr) is observed on the first day of the Khamaseen. Early in the morning of this day, many persons, especially women, break an onion, and smell it; and in the course of the forenoon many of the citizens of Cairo ride or walk a little way into the country, or go in boats, generally northward, to take the air, or, as they term it, smell the air, which on that day they believe to have a wonderfully beneficial effect. The greater number dine in the country or on the river. This year they were treated with a violent hot wind, accompanied by clouds of dust, instead of the neseem; but considerable numbers, notwithstanding, went out to 'smell' it.

According to Plutarch, in the 1st century AD the ancient Egyptians offered salted fish, lettuce and onions to their gods on this day.

So, do we have anything onionish in the Centre? Well nothing in the shop. But we do have a couple of things on display. Firstly, clay offering tray which shows onions.....W480 shows two long water channels, two forelegs of oxen, bread and three bundles of leeks or onions. The onions favoured by the ancient Egyptians would have been more like leeks or scallions. Onions were a staple food, so no wonder the living wanted to provide the dead with them.

But more than that, onions appear to have been associated with rebirth!

Onions appear three times in resurrection scenes on our 21st Dynasty coffin!

Firstly, they appear in the above scene (more about that here). Between Isis and Nephthys is an object which looks like a bag with fringes.

Secondly a bunch occurs here, in the in front of Embracing of Horus (the far left) in the Osiris on the mound scene, and again in front of the right-hand Heka (Heka is the god on the far right), in the same scene.

On noting these strange fringed bags, my first thought was actually that that it was the Abydos or Abydene symbol (ta-wer symbol). The ‘Abydene’ or ‘Abydos symbol’ which had the shape of a bee-hive was considered from the 19th Dynasty to be the reliquary of the head of Osiris. It is usually shown on a pole and is said to represent a wig, suggesting the head of Osiris. As one would expect, this symbol often occurs and both mound scenes and on scenes of the enthroned Osiris. However, the Abydene symbol does not seem to be shown without the pole. So maybe not the Abydene symbol.

However, as was pointed out to me this is more likely to be a bunch of onions! As Graindorge (1992) has shown, depictions beginning in the New Kingdom show celebrations involving the offering of bunches of onion which look very similar to this depiction (for example in TT255, the tomb ofRoy). 

On 25th of Khoak, when celebration concerned the triumph of Osiris, relatives of the deceased offered onions associated with Sokar (onions are also used in the opening of the mouth ceremony). Onions grow both under soil and above it and thus mirror the solar-Osirian theology which is a common theme on this coffin. Sokar is himself associated with Osiris. They also drive away snakes and are thus protective.

So there you have it, maybe we should sell onions in our shop for Easter.


Graindorge, C. 1992. Les Oignons de Sokar, Revue d'Égyptologie 43, 87-105.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

An unusual souvenir?

Is this a rare souvenir? Or is it an attempt to deliberately deceive? 

This artefact is made from pottery and shows the prenomen of Rameses II. It is on display in the Egypt Centre. It was purchased at auction by Wellcome in 1934.

Such objects are often mistaken for the bases of funerary cones, however they are an early form of copy. It would be unlikely to simply have the base of a cone surviving. 

You can see that this has a cartouche of a king’s name. One of the things that makes it even more certain that they are fakes is that kings did not have funerary cones. Most, unlike ours, bear the cartouche of Ramesses III. So ours is a bit unusual.

Cyril Aldred (1957) recognised these as forgeries based on funerary cones. He quotes an 1884 letter from Charles Edwin Wilbour which says ‘I visited the woman Giudeeyeh, who showed me the (modern) stamp from which she moulds and bakes the round brick stamps of Rameses III, that are always offered to you in his temple at Medinet Haboo. She lives north of Yussuf and I encouraged her industry; it saves monuments from destruction.’

Apparently, such items also turn up today on ebay.

With thanks to Tom Hardwick for drawing our attention to ours.


Aldred, C. 1957. ‘The Funerary Cones’ of Ramesses III’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 43, 113.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Shsh....secrets (Harpocrates and initiation rituals!)

The figure to the right has his finger to his mouth. This is Horus the Child, or in Greek, Harpocrates (from the Egyptian Hor-pa-khered literally Horus the Child). You can recognize children in ancient Egyptian depictions by their hair (the side-lock of youth) and by the finger placed against the lips. Indeed, the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for a child showed a child with finger to lips. 

Our copper alloy statuette here right (W1375) has both these characteristics. BUT, the Greeks misunderstood why Harpocrates had his fingers to his lips and reinterpreted him has a god of silence (and secrets).

In the last blog post I explained that Sekhmet was sometimes used in Theosophical rituals. Well, it seems Harpocrates was also used in modern rituals, and all because of the Greeks associating him with silence and secrecy. If you google, you will find, for example, that he appears in initiation rituals in Golden Dawn societies.

Those Greeks had a lot to answer for!

A little bit more about this object: It is 13 cm high, and would have been a votive offering.

The Centre has several other items relating to Harpocrates. Click here to investigate.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Sekhmet and the Theosophical Society

This object has intrigued me for years. It's not so much what it is in Egyptological terms but its 'museological value', its post-excavation history, and the social web which ensnares it. I'm sharing, partly in the hopes that others might add some information.

But, first a little bit about it which may be of interest to 'pure Egyptologists' (if such people exist).

It is accessioned as W496. It measures 18.5cm and is made from glazed steatite. I presume it was orginally seated on a throne or chair, it has its hands by its sides and the mane suggests the figure depicts a lioness rather than cat. It has breasts so I'm assuming it is female.

It's a bit like the faience figure on the right which is in the Kunsthistorishe Museum and dates to 724-332BC (Late Period). The flat jaw is similar. Or the one on this link, from the same museum, again Late Period. There is a glazed steatite example here (I'm afraid I don't have the actual book where it is published but the web says: 'Published: J. Eisenberg, Art of the Ancient World, 2007, no. 204').

Presumably items like this were votive offerings

We don't know where this object was found, or who excavated it. But, we do know how Henry Wellcome came by it. As is shown by the 'Wellcome slip' or 'flimsy card' (a cataloguing tool used by Wellcome's cataloguers sent out to museums when Wellcome's collection was dispersed) we have in the Centre, Wellcome gave it the number L.79347. It is further stated on the slip that Wellcome bought it from the 'Theosophical Society (H.W. Watson), 1 Bloomsbury Street, WC1 Case No,. 7117.'

This object was owned by the Theosophical Society[i], founded by the Russian lady Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) in 1875. Her teaching synthesized many ancient and modern religious beliefs including those of ancient Egypt[ii]. It is not clear how the artefact was used, but it seems that the members of the Theosophical Society considered the lion as important, as a sign of the zodiac, as a symbol of one of the four elements and as a solar eye. In Blavatsky 1886 the lion is frequently cited as a zodiacal sign, or as a symbol of the elements.

The Evangelical zoolatry -- the Bull, the Eagle, the Lion, and the Angel (in reality the Cherub, or Seraph, the fiery-winged Serpent), is as much pagan as that of the Egyptians or the Chaldeans. These four animals are, in reality, the symbols of the four elements, and of the four lower principles in man. (Blavatsky, 1886,  I. 363 see also II, 114)

"Oh Toum, Toum! issued from the great (female) which is in the bosom of the waters"
(the great Deep or Space) . . . "Thou, luminous through the two Lions" (the dual Force or
power of the two solar eyes, or the electro-positive and the electro-negative forces. (See
Book of the Dead, III., and Egyptian Pantheon, chapter ii.) (Blavatsky I 673, footnote).

But is it really Sekhmet? Might it be Mut? Does it matter, did it ever matter? The Egyptians mixed and matched goddesses. Though usually lioness goddesses are labelled as Sekhmet. Maybe this is due to romanticism? Even today, Sekhmet as opposed to other lioness goddesses, seems to be considered the epitome of Egyptian aggressive female deities and possibly thus romaniticised[iii].

When the object came to Swansea it was considered important enough to be catalogued by the then honourary curator Kate Bosse-Griffiths. She didn't catalogue all the objects, but rather selected those which appeared 'important'. She also put it on display as can be seen here:

And, it has an entry in the guidebook. According to the Guide Book written by Kate Bosse Griffiths (Egypt Centre archive A1, 8) which accompanied this exhibit. This object was within a display of ‘small sculptures’ of various materials: In this display there are examples of various techniques resulting in sculptures in the round and in relief by chiseling stone, casting bronze and moulding glass and Egyptian fayence.

The object itself was not, at the date of writing the guidebook, considered important enough to be listed alone. It was however, sent for conservation to Cardiff in 1980 (we have the evidence in the Centre)

In 1996 there was an exhibition of objects organised by David Gill of Swansea University, together with Alison Lloyd of the Glyn Vivian Art Gallery called 'The Face of Egypt'. The aim of the exhibition was to highlight the forthcoming opening of our Egypt Centre. I visited the exhibition prior to being appointed as curator here, but of course I don't remember all the objects. What I do remember is an 'arty' type exhibition with beautifully displayed objects but very little explanation. The objects were shown as one might expect in a traditional art museum. There was a guidebook, a copy of which we have in the Centre. In the guidebook (page 9 number 64), under a section labeled ‘Gods’ the item is catalogued as a ‘Figure of Sekhmet with female body and lion’s head. Ceramic 7.7x7.8x18.6cm’.[iv]  It is not ceramic. However, unsurprisingly there are a few innacuracies in the guidebook, perfectly naturally since at this time there was no professional Egyptological curator of the collection[iv]. And no-one is perfect, there are mistakes in our catalogue!

The object was selected for display in the Egypt Centre in 1997. We put in a case of animal related objects (see pic on right). It's on the bottom, towards the right with other feline-related objects. At the time, the Wendy Goodridge and I thought it would be good to display objects thematically, partly according to what schools and the general public might want, though we were heavily restricted by the previous plans for the museum which had been drawn up and which presented a chronological theme for the upstairs gallery and funerary themes for downstairs. Of course it could also go in our technology case, or our stonework case, or in the votive offering case, or in the gods case.

So there we have it, an object used in ancient Egypt in a 'religious' context and reused in the near present in a religious context by the Theosophical Society. I would love to know how the object was actually used by the Theosophical Society. One might argue that even today it is shown in a sort of secular temple (museums are often compared to churches).

One day I hope to research this more.


Blavatsky, H.P. 1886. The Secret Doctrine, The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy. (you can read this online, just google it)

Bosse-Griffith, K. 1976. Hyffforddwr/Guide. (Egypt Centre archive A1)

i. As can be ascertained from the catalogue card in the Egypt Centre which predates 1997.
ii. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakhmet
iii There was in the past, many links and friendships between occultists and Egyptologists, and other elite more generally. We should not find this surprising as disciplines were not so seperate. Aleister Crowley for example was friends Budge, Gardiner and others.
iii. While the object is neither photographed nor given its accession number here, it is identified as W496 by the size and description and because a working file from the Face of Egypt Exhbition labelled ‘gods’ had a photograph of W496 therein.
iv. The collection was under the care of David Gill, a classist, who was helped by a former student of Liverpool University. Click here for a history of the Centre.