Monday, 11 November 2019

Socked Axes, Sphinxes, and Tell el-Yahudiyeh Ware: The Second Intermediate Period in Swansea

The blog post for this week is written by Sarah Farooque, a first year undergraduate student of Egyptology at Swansea University.

As an undergraduate student of Egyptology at Swansea, I was really excited when presented with the chance to attend this Egypt Centre course. It’s amazing to handle artefacts and learn about them in detail, especially as I start my studies. This week we looked at the Second Intermediate Period, which came about after the collapse of the Middle Kingdom (Marée 2010).

My favourite object from this week was the copper alloy socked axe (W505). The axe was introduced by the Hyksos, a group of foreign rulers in Egypt during the Fifteenth Dynasty. This axe was used for piercing armour, yet for something so small it had a lot of weight (fig. 1)! We even discussed how the cranium damage on the mummy of Seqenenre Tao matches the axe and one just like this could’ve been used against him (Shaw 2009).

Fig. 1: Socked axe (W505)

One of my favourite things to look at is pottery and this week Ken introduced us to a type of vessel from the Second Intermediate Period called Tell el-Yahudiyeh Ware (Aston & Bietak 2012). This type of pottery is characterised by its distinctive decoration created by repeatedly “pricking” the surface of the vessel. W1289 was really intricate and beautiful (fig. 2). This type of pottery was introduced to Egypt during the Hyksos Period. It has been suggested that the decoration on these vessels resembles the poppy flower. We learned that there are tomb scenes illustrating servant girls pouring liquid from similar looking jars into drinks—there is debate on whether this was opium (Aston & Bietak 2012, 557–8, 621–4; Koschel 1996; Merrillees 1962; )! It is fascinating how much we can learn about Egyptian culture from such a small piece.

Fig. 2: Tell el-Yahudiyeh juglet (W1289)

The objects handled so far were quite common to this period. However, this changed when we examined two resin casts of sphinxes (EC299a & EC229b). An unidentified king, in the form of the sphinx, is depicted holding the head of a captive (fig. 3). It turns out these casts are of a very famous and popular piece, which can be seen at the British Museum (BM EA 54678). The original was found in tomb 477 at Abydos by John Garstang in 1908 (Garstang 1928). As it was so unusual, many collectors and museums wanted a copy of it for themselves, which is why the Egypt Centre ended up with two. Therefore, our sphinxes are only around 100 years old. Its popularity was also down to the piece being dated to the Fifteenth Dynasty and believed to be depicting a Hyksos ruler. However, recent research identifies this object as a belonging to the early Twelfth Dynasty, perhaps to the reign of Senwosret I!

Fig. 3: Resin sphinx (EC299a)

Back to the Second Intermediate Period, our next object was a limestone stela (EC7). While we don’t know exactly where it was found, it seems to belong to the owner of another stela formerly in Liverpool ( that was excavated at Esna (Donohue 2009). The stela depicts a deceased couple and family members, with an offering formula above (fig. 4). The images are crammed together, which is typical of Second Intermediate Period art where the quality declines again, much like in the First Intermediate Period (Franke & Marée 2013).

Fig. 4: Stela of Ibi-ia (EC7)

Our last object was a headless statue depicting an unknown deity (identified as such due to the ankh she is holding) made of siltstone (fig. 5). W848 could be a modern fake due to the holes at the bottom and at the top where a head may have been stuck back on. The most fascinating part of this statue is the symbol on the side of the throne. This imagery is of the papyrus and lotus entwined, the so-called sema-tawy scene, which was symbolic of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Fig. 5: Statue (W484)

I would like to thank both Ken and the Egypt Centre for running this course. I have been fortunate enough to learn so much and I can’t wait for next week!

Aston, D. and M. Bietak (2012) Tell el-Dabʻa VIII: the classification and chronology of Tell el-Yahudiya ware. Denkschriften der Gesamtakademie 66; Untersuchungen der Zweigstelle Kairo des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes 12. Vienna: Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Donohue, V. A. (2009) ‘A Latopolitan family of the Late Middle Kingdom’. In Sitting beside Lepsius: Studies in honour of Jaromir Malek at the Griffith Institute, ed. D. Magee, J. Bourriau and S. Quirke. Orientalia Lovaniensia analecta 185. Leuven: Peeters. 115–128.
Franke, D. and M. Marée (2013) Egyptian stelae in the British Museum from the 13th–17th Dynasties. Volume I, Fascicule 1: Descriptions. London: British Museum.
Garstang, J. (1928) ‘An ivory sphinx from Abydos (British Museum, no. 54678)’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 14: 46–47.
Koschel, K. (1996) ‘Opium alkaloids in a Cypriote base ring I vessel (Bilbil) of the Middle Bronze Age from Egypt’. Ägypten und Levante: Internationale Zeitschrift für ägyptische Archäologie und deren Nachbargebiete 6: 159–166.
Marée, M. ed. (2010) The Second intermediate period (thirteenth-seventeenth dynasties): current research, future prospects. Orientalia Lovaniensia analecta 192. Leuven; Walpole, MA: Peeters.
Merrillees, R. S. (1962) ‘Opium trade in the Bronze Age Levant’. Antiquity: Quarterly Review of Archaeology 36: 287–292.
Shaw, G. J. (2009) ‘The death of king Seqenenre Tao’. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 45: 159–176.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Statues and Tomb Models of the Middle Kingdom

The blog post for this week is written by Molly Osborne, a previous contributor who is an Undergraduate student and Egypt Centre volunteer.

My first handling session was during a module in my second year, where I wrote a research project about an object in the House of Life. Ever since, I have loved learning about the stories of the artefacts in the Egypt Centre. This week, we were learning about the history and civilisation of the Middle Kingdom, with six objects from that time period selected. During the session I found out that almost all the objects were stone statues or statuettes. The Middle Kingdom was known to be one of the great glory periods of Egyptian history, a classical period of literature and art, as can be seen from the objects chosen this week. We could see that there was a standardised style of artwork on most of the objects we handled.

Fig. 1: Statue of a man (W845)

The first objects I handled were two broken heads from statuettes, which are made of steatite. One of them (W845) depicts a figure of a man with his hand underneath his cloak, who may have originally been seated or standing (fig. 1). As this figure may have been seated, I think this man was most probably a high official or worked as a scribe. The other (W842) is identified as a female figure because of the “Hathor wig”, which is a typical style of the period (fig. 2).

W.842: Statue of a woman (W845)

The heaviest object was a huge plaster cast replica of a statue in the British Museum (BM EA 24385), which depicts the Royal Scribe and Chancellor, Senebtyty (W1012). He is shown (fig. 3) wearing a piece of clothing that looks a bit like a towel, a dress which is typical of the Middle Kingdom (Robins 1997, fig 128). There are hieroglyphs on the base and on the back pillar, which were also common on many Egyptian statues. An interesting thing I learnt was that if Henry Wellcome was not able to buy an object, he bought or commissioned replicas like this one.

Fig. 3: Cast of a statue of Senebtyfy (W1012)

W847 is a siltstone, funerary statue of an unknown couple (fig. 4), which perhaps comes from the tombs at Aswan. This statue may depict and belong to the person who was buried, with the deceased being either the man or the woman. Unfortunately, there is no inscription on the object, so we do not know who this object depicts. The standardised artwork mentioned previously is noticeable on all the objects I have mentioned so far. They all have big ears and a slight smile, which was typical of the late Middle Kingdom. The wide eyes look like the archaic style of ancient Greece, which was copied from the Egyptians. W847 and W1012 also have huge hands and feet, which are not in proportion with the rest of the body.

Fig. 4: Pair statue (W847)

There were two objects which were not made of stone. One was a wooden tomb model (W434) and the other was a wooden goose (W588), which are normally on display in the House of Death gallery. The wooden tomb figure (fig. 5) was used in a funerary context and has a moveable arm, just like a modern-day doll. It is possible that this figure represents the tomb owner, although another suggestion is that it was part of a large group and it would have been the overseer or someone else of authority. This idea came from the positioning of the feet (the left foot is in front of the right foot) and the fact that it would have held a staff in his hand.

Fig. 5: Tomb model (W434)

The wooden goose (fig. 6) was by far my favourite object from this week. It has long been suggested that W588 is a fake, mainly because its base is modern. However, the object was purchased from the collection of William MacGregor (lot 576), with the catalogue stating that it came from Arab el-Birk, near Asyut. There are the remains of a possible dowel on the top of the goose, which suggests that it may have been hung and held by a big servant figure.

Fig. 6: Model goose (W588)

This course has been very interesting and I would like to thank Ken Griffin and the Egypt Centre for offering them. It’s been an awesome experience!

Bourriau, J. (1988) Pharaohs and mortals: Egyptian art in the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Grajetzki, W. (2006) The Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt: history, archaeology and society. Duckworth Egyptology. London: Duckworth.
Oppenheim, A., D. Arnold, D. Arnold, and K. Yamamoto eds. (2015) Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
Robins, G. (1997) The art of ancient Egypt. London: The British Museum Press.
Sotheby, W. H. (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.
Tooley, A. (1995) Egyptian models and scenes. Shire Egyptology 22. Risborough: Shire Publications. 

Monday, 28 October 2019

The Art of the First Intermediate Period

The blog post this week is written by Peter Black, retired Further Education and University Lecturer, now an education leader volunteer in the Egypt Centre, and one of the last students completing the Higher Education Certificate in Egyptology at Swansea University.

As an education leader, I have loved doing handling sessions with the school children who come to the Egypt Centre. Their excitement is infectious. This handling class is a wonderful extension of that shared experience, as I am able to look closely at gems from the museum collection. This week focused on five pieces from the First Intermediate Period (fig. 1). Ken took us all carefully through the political and artistic background to this still slightly neglected time of turmoil, with dynasties containing competing dynastic power groups and cultural fragmentation ensuing (Seidlmayer 2000).

Fig. 1: Reading the text of EC148 (photo by Molly Osborne)

What seized my attention was the connection he established between this turbulent context and the artistic forms that were emerging within the period—with looser political structures came a kind of freedom. When we examined the five objects the interesting claim that “there was a loss of formal clarity and precision in the art of the period” became evident right before our eyes. For me this was exciting. One way to explain this is via grid lines. We were focusing on stelae and it is well known that throughout ancient Egyptian history representations of figures conformed to a tight grid system, only changing very slightly over time (Robins 1995). These stelae were exceptions to this convention. They were quite markedly different to the clear, formal, somewhat austere and dignified air of examples from the Old Kingdom. There were three stelae: EC62, EC148, and W1366. 

Fig. 2: “Soldier stela” (EC62)

Initially they looked worn and almost damaged with relief carving lines having to be teased out as our group of three co-operated to identify features. However, as we began to use the torches on our phones to expose them to a much closer examination, they did, literally, come to life (my mind jumped to imagining the fierce, piercing ancient Egyptian sun doing exactly this). These were the self-promoting images of quite powerful people. The bow in EC62 (fig. 2) and the proud weaponry in W1366 were stunning affirmations commonly found in “soldier stelae” of the period (Vandier 1954, 468469). Additionally, the “breakdown” of rules didn’t just result in slightly elongated figures, a foot too long, stretchy arms: here also, was a wife in EC148 (fig. 3) actually leading her husband in the ritual offering. Perhaps the women of Coptos (where this W148 is possibly from) were quite assertive and demanded a prominent role on stelae (Fischer 2000)!

Fig. 3: Stela of a woman (EC148)

The detail revealed in W1366 (fig. 4), which was purchased form the 1906 Robert de Rustafjaell sale, was wonderfully intriguing and again my imagination took flight. Yes, there were loosely carved figures—a tall warrior, his wife beside him—but there was a lot more to be seen. The carving of the hand on the bow and on the sheath of arrows was fabulously clear. Here was a man ensuring that representation of his martial prowess struck the viewer. His wife looked like a super-thin model with long stretchy arms, but…. if you looked closely enough the disproportional left arm had stretched round her husband’s back to provide caressing support! Immediately adjacent to this tiny hand was a “floating” servant bringing a cup. Look, we have servants!

Fig. 4: “Soldier stela” (W1366)

It was this desperate, but entirely endearing attempt to strain to look important that intrigued me. However, the most moving item from the collection came as a surprise. It was an offering tray (W476a), part of a funerary religious ritual (fig. 5). It had the raised roughish parts of a bull on its concave interior and a strange hole which did not reach the outside. Ever keen to speculate I found myself thinking of the modern best dinner service, possibly inherited from grandparents, brought out on special family occasions. I felt I was holding a piece of magic from ancient Egypt. Along with the stelae, it set me loose on the culture of the First Intermediate Period where it seems art was free to be domestically aspirational in a most captivating manner.

Fig. 5: Offering tray (W476a)

Fischer, H. G. (2000) Egyptian women of the Old Kingdom and of the Herakleopolitan Period. New York, NY: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. second edition.
Robins, G. (1995) Proportion and style in ancient Egypt. Austin; London: University of Texas Press; Thames and Hudson.
———. (2000) The art of ancient Egypt. London: The British Museum Press.
Seidlmayer, S. J. (2000) ‘The First Intermediate Period (c. 2160–2055 BC)’. In The Oxford history of ancient Egypt, ed. I. Shaw. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 118–147.
Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge. (1906) Catalogue of the collection of Egyptian antiquities formed in Egypt, by R. de Rustafjaell, Esq. Queen’s Gate, S. W. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
Vandier, J. (1954) Manuel d’archéologie égyptienne II. Paris: Éditions A. et J. Picard.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Treasures from the Age of the Pyramid Builders

The blog post for this week is written by Sam Powell, an Egypt Centre volunteer and Masters student of Egyptology at Swansea University, who has previously written guest posts this year. 

This week’s class focused on the Old Kingdom (namely the Third–Sixth Dynasties, approximately 2700–2200 BC). The Egypt Centre holds comparatively less material that can be definitely dated to this timeframe than other periods (the Tjenti lintel was too big to remove from the wall!), but in spite of this Ken was able to select some really beautiful pieces for the class to demonstrate the type of material being produced during this important period of Egyptian history.

Fig. 1: Siltstone dish

Our first object was the reserve head (W164), which has been discussed in a previous blog post, but was very well-received by the class, many of whom have admired this object on display and were very pleased to finally view it up close. A siltstone dish (W412), likely dating to the First–Second Dynasty (Aston 1994, type 51), was helpful to compare the shift from the Early Dynastic Period to the Old Kingdom (fig. 1).

Fig. 2: Breccia bowl

A red and white breccia bowl (W400) is unprovenanced but typical of vessels produced during the Early Dynasty Period (fig. 2). However, the typology established by Aston (1994, type 108) also suggests these vessels can be found in tombs of the early Old Kingdom. It’s a sizable and very heavy piece (which isn’t appreciated when viewing in a case), and the amount of time and skill that must have gone into its production cannot go unnoticed when viewed up close.

Fig. 3: Offering table

We had two travertine (Egyptian alabaster) objects this week—a dish (W398), and an offering table (W2045)—and as with the breccia bowl, being able to handle these vessels really allows you to appreciate the scale of the work involved. The travertine bowl is fortunate to have a known provenance, allowing us to securely date it to the Third Dynasty. It was excavated by John Garstang (1876–1956) from the site of Raqaqnah (Tomb 1) between 1901–2 (Garstang 1904; Thomas 2002). The offering table (W2045) stylistically dates to the Fifth Dynasty, and would have been placed on a stand in front of a false door in a tomb to receive food offerings for the deceased (fig, 3). This object was a gift from the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.

Fig. 4: Admiring the aragonite dish
My favourite object of the week was the aragonite dish (W307), which fits with Aston’s type 51 (figs. 4–5). I’d been lucky enough to help with the condition checks for the objects prior to the class, and Ken and I noted this item was listed as travertine (likely due to its translucent nature, and ivory colour). However, we realised that the red bands were very unusual and the stone much smoother and crystalline than other travertine objects of a similar date. After a little research, we concluded aragonite a much more likely candidate for its material.

Fig. 5: Aragonite dish

The thing that really impressed me with the dish was the skill and forethought of the artist who created the piece over four thousand years ago, who realised the bands of different colour within the natural rock could be utilised to create the beautiful effect around the circumference of the dish—it is stunning!

Fig. 6: An excellent photo op

There were audible “oohs” and “ahhhs” in the class (as well as the hasty grabbing of camera phones!) when we put the translucent objects on the light box that Ken had brought up from the stores (fig. 6). This handy bit of kit allowed us to illuminate the objects from below. As well as just being very pretty, this allowed the class to really see the tool marks and veins of the natural stone within each piece.

Thank you to Ken, and the Egypt Centre, for allowing us the opportunity to appreciate these beautiful and fascinating objects—I can’t wait to see what objects we get next week!

Aston, B. G. (1994) Ancient Egyptian stone vessels: materials and forms. Studien zur Archäologie und Geschichte Altägyptens 5. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag.
Thomas, A. P. (2002) ‘The rediscovery of some Dynasty III stone vessels from Reqaqnah’. In Mélanges offerts à Edith Varga: “le lotus qui sort de terre”, ed. H. Győry. Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts: Supplément 2001. Budapest: Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts. 459–468.

Monday, 14 October 2019

The Predynastic Period in the Egypt Centre

This past Thursday, I started my new course entitled A History of Egypt though the Egypt Centre. This ten-week course consists of PowerPoint lectures (first hour) briefly summarising the periods under discussion, followed by a handling session (second hour) of five–six objects in the Egypt Centre collection (fig. 1). Over the next ten weeks, this blog will will present objects from the classes. While this week’s post is written by me, subsequent entries will be written by different members of the class, some of whom are Swansea University students, Egypt Centre volunteers, and members of the public. As their knowledge and learning abilities vary, the posts will likely present quite different perspectives on the classes. Since these differences and views are valued, the entries will undergo as little editing as possible!

Fig. 1: Examining a cast of the Battlefield Palette (EC641)

In the first class, participants had the opportunity to handle five objects dating to the Predynastic Period: EC641, a plaster cast of the Battlefield Palette (Ashmolean Museum 1892.1171), W150 (a Predynastic figure), W151 (basalt vessel), W152 (diorite macehead), and a D-Ware pot (W5308). The D-Ware pot has been discussed elsewhere on this blog, while the Battlefield Palette (fig. 2) is well-known in Egyptological literature. Therefore, this post will focus briefly on the remaining three objects, particularly the Predynastic figure.

Fig. 2: Cast of the Battlefield Palette

W151 is a black basalt ovoid vase with two pierced lugs on a small circular foot, which was excavated by Guy Brunton (1878–1948) at Mostagedda in 1929. The label accompanying the object when it arrived in Swansea had the number “29/11729”, which gives the year of excavation (1929) and the number of the tomb (11729). 11729 is described by Brunton (1937, 74, pl. 42) as being a “grave covered with matting laid on sticks. Finer matting on and under the body”. It is also noted that the body belonged to a male and that the tomb was previously looted. This would explain why the vase was heavily broken and repaired before entering the Wellcome Collection in 1930 (fig. 3). W151 is perhaps a type 2d vase, which is said by Mallory-Greenough (2002, 70) to date to Naqada I–II Period. These tend to occur in wealthy burials.

Fig. 3: Basalt vase

W152, a diorite disc macehead, also originates from Brunton’s 1929 excavations at Mostagedda (fig. 4). It was found in tomb 1854 “with a flint knife, in front of the arms of an undisturbed male, and was also broken in two” (Brunton 1937, 89). Maceheads were used as weapons and in ceremonies, with many images showing kings killing their enemies with such objects. They may either have been attached to a leather thong, or put on a wooden/ivory/horn shaft. The disk-shaped macehead seems to have been generally earlier than the pear-shaped macehead. Both date from the Predynastic to early Dynastic times (4000–3000 BC) and are commonly found in graves. They often seem to have been deliberately broken before being put into the graves.

Fig.4: Diorite macehead

The most intriguing object from the first week's handling session was W150, a Predynastic stone figure. W150 measures 29cm high and is hollow up to a third of its height, wide enough to permit the statue to be mounted on a pole or other support (Bosse-Griffiths 1975; Hendrickx 2014–2015, 230–233, fig. 4). The drilling is not perfect, thus suggesting that the item was made in antiquity. However, a small hole in the top of the head appears more modern (figs. 5–6). The first reference to this object occurs in the 1913 sale catalogue of items belonging to Robert De Rustafjael. Lot 219 is described as: “A very remarkable and exceedingly early penate figure in hard white stone, 12in high; the body cylindrical and with a wide raised band at the base; the head is of rudimentary type, the eyes shown by incised lines, the ears projecting and badly formed. A small hole is drilled at the top of the head; and the base is widely hollowed out to a depth of about 3 ½ inches. Similar objects in ivory and wood are known and have been described as ”Staffs of Office”, ”Magic Wands”, etc; very rare; possibly unique of this size; for a similar object see lot 761”. The figure was later resold and purchased by Henry Wellcome at auction in May 1919 (Glendining’s auction 05 May 1919, Lot 812).

Fig. 5: Predynastic stone figure

W150 appears to be one of a type of object more commonly made from hippopotamus ivory. These items are usually hollow, have a loop at the end, and may have a human head. Hendrickx and Eyckerman (2011) have produced a recent study on them. However, those with human heads (Hendrickx and Eykerman’s type A.5) usually have a pierced head. They are sometimes categorised in the same object group as “tags” made from bone or ivory. The tusk-like shape of our example may be related to the pairs of decorated ivory tusks found in Naqada I and II graves (4000–3200 BC). Usually, one is solid and one is hollow and it has been suggested that these tusks represent a male and female respectively. A pair of tusks was found in a woman’s grave at el-Mahasna near Abydos (Baumgartel 1960, 60).

Fig. 6: Head of W150

It has been suggested that because this object is unusual it is a fake. While we are not certain, the fact that our item is made from stone need not mean it is a fake. There is also a similar breccia figure from Gebelein (Musée des Confluences, Lyon 900000171; Hendrickx and Eyckerman 2011: 510; Hendrickx et al., 2014–2015, 229–230, figs. 2–3). As always, we welcome any feedback readers may have on the objects!

Baumgartel, E. J. (1947–1960) The cultures of prehistoric Egypt. 2 vols. Oxford: Griffith Institute; Oxford University Press.
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (1975) ‘A Prehistoric stone figure from Egypt’. In Symposium international sur Les religions de la prehistoire: Valcamonica, 18–23 septembre 1972, ed. E. Anati. Capo di Ponte: Centro camuno di studi preistorici. 313–316.
Hendrickx, S. and M. Eyckerman (2011) ‘Tusks and tags: between the hippopotamus and the Naqada plant’. In Proceedings of the Third International Conference “Origin of the state: predynastic and early dynastic Egypt”, London, 27th July–1st August 2008, ed. R. F. Friedman and P. N. Fiske. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 205. Leuven: Peeters.
Hendrickx, S., K. E. Piquette, M. Eyckerman, K. Madrigal, and C. Graves-Brown (2014–2015) ‘The origin and early significance of the White Crown’. Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo 70–71: 227–238.
Mallory-Greenough, L. M. (2002) ‘The geographical, spatial, and temporal distribution of Predynastic and First Dynasty basalt vessels’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 88: 67–93.
Messrs. Glendining and Co., Ltd. (1919) Catalogue of the fine collection of Oriental ivories, lacquer, bronzes, tsuba, etc. The property of the estate of the Honble, J. I. Fellows, deceased; G. H. Naunton, Esq., Tunstall Behrens, Esq., and others. London: Messrs. Glendining and Co., Ltd.
Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge (1913) Catalogue of the remaining part of the valuable collection of Egyptian antiquities formed by Robert de Rustafjaell, Esq. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge. 

Monday, 7 October 2019

A Sandstone Block from the Henqet-ankh Temple of Thutmosis III in Swansea

Over the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of being a team member of the Thutmosis III Temple Project, directed by Dr. Myriam Seco Álvarez. Thutmosis III is known to have built several monuments on the West Bank of Luxor, including his so-called “Temple of Millions of Years”, which is located on the edge of the cultivation about 100m north of the Ramesseum. In ancient times the temple was also referred to as the “Mansion of Menkheperre (Thutmosis III) Henqet-ankh”. The site had been previously excavated by Georges Daressy (1888–1889), Arthur Weigall (1905), and Herbert Ricke (1934–1937), although no systematic excavation of the site had been undertaken before the project commenced work in 2008 (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Sorting fragments (photo by Myriam Seco Álvarez)

My work at the site focused on the Ritual of the Hours, particularly those of the Night, in addition to the thousands of limestone blocks. The Ritual of the Hours were inscribed in raised relief on sandstone blocks forming a vaulted ceiling of a rear room within the temple. All traces of this room have virtually disappeared besides several hundred blocks of varying sizes. However, the room also originally contained a granite false door located on the western side, which functioned to allow the ka of the pharaoh to teleport between his tomb and the temple in order to receive offerings. At an unknown date this false door was removed from the temple and transported to the neighbouring site of Medinet Habu. Discovered face down in the late twentieth century, it was erected at the entrance to the Roman temple, where it still stands (fig. 2). At the very top are the remains of the feet belonging to the personifications of the Twelfth Hour of the Day and the First Hour of the Night.

Fig. 2: False door at Medinet Habu

Interestingly, the Egypt Centre has a close connection with this temple since we have a sandstone block (W1371) which clearly originated from the site. The raised relief depicts a standing figure on the right with a small figure of an offering bearer directly in front (fig. 3). Most importantly, the rectangular box above her head gives the name of the temple: “Mansion of Menkheperre Henqet-ankh”! This block was purchased by “Llewellyn” on behalf of Sir Henry Wellcome from the 1906 Robert de Rustafjaell sale. The lot (58) is described as “Other fragments in sand and limestone–kneeling figure of woman, etc., Men with offerings, etc.; Thebes and Deir-el-Bahri”. The fragment is even depicted in the plates (X. 4) of the catalogue. Visitors to the Egypt Centre can find it in one of the display drawers within the House of Life.

Fig. 3: Sandstone fragment (W1371)

Other reliefs from the temple may also have been sold in the 1906 de Rustafjaell sale, although this is difficult to determine due to the lack of images in the catalogue for the majority of pieces. One fragment, however, could be BM EA 43457 (fig. 4), which was purchased by William Talbot Ready (1857–1914) as part of lot 57. It is also depicted in plate X (1) of the catalogue. The fragment was subsequently sold to the British Museum in 1907. This lot is described as “Others–cartouche of Thothmes III, head of Ammon-Ra, vultures, etc.; Deir-el-Bahri”. While the mention of Deir el-Bahari might imply that it originated from the temples there, it was commonly used by Victorian travelled to refer to the greater surrounding area. De Rustafjaell may have acquired these reliefs around the same time that the temple was being excavated by Weigall in 1905 (Weigall (1906).

Fig. 4: Relief of Thutmosis III:

Readers to this blog can follow the progress of the Thutmosis III Temple Project via the website or through their Facebook page. I am most grateful to Dr. Myriam Seco Álvarez for inviting me to be part of this project!

Bierbrier, M. L. (2012) Who Was Who in Egyptology. London: The Egypt Exploration Society. 4th edition.
Daressy, G. (1926) ‘Le voyage d’inspection de M. Grébaut en 1889’. Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte 26: 1–22.
Griffin, K. (2017) ‘Toward a better understanding of the ritual of the Hours of the Night (Stundenritual)’. In Tombs of the South Asasif necropolis: New discoveries and research 2012–14, ed. E. Pischikova. The American University in Cairo Press: Cairo. 97–134.
Ricke, H. (1939) Der Totentempel Thutmoses’ III.: Baugeschichtliche Untersuchung. Beiträge zur ägyptischen Bauforschung und Altertumskunde 3 (1). Cairo: Selbstverlag.
Seco Álvarez, M. (2014) ‘The Temple of Millions of Years of Tuthmosis III’. Egyptian Archaeology: The Bulletin of the Egyptian Exploration Society 44: 21–25.
——— (2017) ‘Excavations in the “Temple of Millions of Years” of Thutmosis III’. In Proceedings of the XI International Congress of Egyptologists, Florence Egyptian Museum, Florence, 23–30 August 2015, ed. G. Rosati and G. M. Cristina. Archeopress Egyptology 19. Oxford: Archeopress. 581–586.
Seco Álvarez, M. and J. M. Babón (2015) ‘Middle Kingdom tombs beneath the Temple of Millions of Years’. Egyptian Archaeology: The Bulletin of the Egyptian Exploration Society 47: 27–30.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (1906) Catalogue of the Collection of Egyptian Antiquities Formed in Egypt, by R. de Rustafjaell, Esq. Queen’s Gate, S. W. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge. 
Weigall, A. E. P. (1906) ‘A report on the excavation of the funeral temple of Thoutmosis III at Gurneh’. Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte 7: 121–141.

Monday, 30 September 2019

"An Unforgettable Experience": My Two Month Placement at the Egypt Centre

The blog post for this week is a guest entry by Jiayun Zhu, a Museum Studies placement student from Leicester University.

For the past two months (13th July–6th September), I was fortunate to be an intern at the Egypt Centre and to help Ken sort out and inspect the reserve collection in preparation for moving to the new store. There are more than 5,000 items in the collection, and although I didn’t have enough time to appreciate each one, I frequently found something interesting in the boxes. While it’s easy to get tired of constantly repeating the examination process, the collection and entering data, I tried to find some lovely details. For example, do you know what this thing shaped like a cat’s leg is (fig. 1)? I thought at first it was a leg of a table or bed based on an animal leg. However, it’s actually the beard from a wooden coffin!

Fig. 1: Comparison between a cat leg and wooden beard

The most surprising thing for me was that we found the bones of some snakes in an unremarkable bag of sand and bandages. The skulls of the snake bones were so well preserved that they were put on display in the animal case in the House of Life (fig. 2). It makes me excited because I found a new exhibit with my own hands, thus making it an unforgettable experience.

Fig. 2: A collection of snake heads

The Egypt Centre contains a mass of exquisite and historic artifacts, yet it turned out my favorite objects were inlay eyes from coffins (fig. 3). These eyes are not preserved in pairs; each one is unique. Some only have only eye sockets, some only have the white of the eye and pupils. Although they are incomplete, they are still vivid like human eyes. This is because the craftsmen chose the right material to express the details of the eyes. Some eyes are made of a single material, while others are made of composite materials. For example, some eyes are carved entirely out of stone. Other eyes are more complex with different materials for their eye sockets, white of eyes, and pupils. Egyptians tended to use bronze for the shape of eyes, pale pottery or faience for the whites, and black glass for the pupils. It reflects the depth of the orb and the lustre of the pupil, which is why they were so appealing to me.

Fig. 3: A collection of eyes

The development of the new store from nothing to now was witnessed by me, and I was fortunate to have been involved in some steps. When I first started my placement, the new store was just an empty room. Soon after the roller racking shelving was added, then the air conditioning unit was activated, and the CCTV and alarm installed. In my last week, we started to move objects from the old Wellcome Store to the new one. This included the large Amarna pot (fig 4), which was the focus of an earlier blog post by Molly Osborne.

Fig. 4: Myself with Sam Powell, Ken Griffin, and Molly Osborne moving the Amarna pot

It can be said that my two-month placement was a real treasure hunt. It not only transformed my perception of museums from theory to practice, but also broadened my understanding of Egyptian culture. I would like to thank all the staff and volunteers in the Egypt Centre, especially Carolyn and Ken who were both knowledgeable and always willing to answer my questions. These two months were so pleasant that the time passed very quickly. I like Swansea, the Egypt Centre, and all the people there!

Monday, 23 September 2019

Time for a makeover: Sending objects for conservation

On Tuesday 10th September, the Curator (Carolyn Graves-Brown) and I travelled to Cardiff University with a group of 40+ objects for conservation (fig. 1). For several decades the Egypt Centre have been sending objects to the School of History, Archaeology, and Religion to undergo conservation treatment. As part of the agreement, the conservation work is undertaken for free by carefully supervised students as part of their degree scheme. Students enrolled in the BSc in the Conservation of Objects in Museums and Archaeology, or an MSc in Conservation Practice carry out hands-on conservation work of genuine museum objects taught by accredited conservators. This agreement benefits both parties since the Egypt Centre is able to support students with object information, context, and feedback to shape their conservation decisions and Cardiff students deliver a constant, if slow, supply of conserved objects ready for display.

Fig. 1: Objects loaded for delivery

Over the past few months, in consultation with Phil Parkes (Senior Conservator at Cardiff) we selected suitable objects that needed conservation and study. This included objects that were both on display and in storage. We even sent the papyrus of Ankh-hapi (W867), which is one of our most popular objects in the House of Life gallery and recently featured in the final list of our thirty highlights. This papyrus consists of 44 lines containing chapters 15a–g of the Book of the Dead, along with the vignette for Chapter 1 above (fig. 2). W867 represents only a small fragment of the original papyrus, with sections also housed in the British Museum (P. London BM EA 9946) and the Hurst Galley Cambridge, MA (P. Cambridge, Mass). At some point, because of the friability of the papyrus, clear tape was used to hold it together. This tape will have to be removed and new modern conservation methods used in order adequately preserve the papyrus.

Fig. 2: Papyrus of Ankh-Hapi

Another popular object sent for conservation is a small whistle (W247), which was the topic of a paper by John Rogers at our Wonderful Things conference in May. This object was purchased by Henry Wellcome in 1922 from the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor (lot 1798). The object was already in several fragments in 1922, and at an unknown date had been glued back together. This glue has since lost its adhesiveness and the whistle is now in three pieces. At Cardiff the old glue will be removed and a new adhesive used to join the fragments together. It will also be possible to analyse the components of the whistle, which seems to consist of a copper alloy internal tube with alternating bone/ivory and lapis lazuli rings (fig. 3). This whistle will feature in a future guest post by John Rogers.

Fig. 3: Whistle with bone/ivory and lapis lazuli rings

Four stelae have also been sent to Cardiff for restoration and conservation. This includes fragments of a Middle Kingdom stela (EC1848), which featured in a blog post in June. One lucky student will have the opportunity to reconstruct around forty limestone fragments, thus requiring a lot of patience! The remaining three stelae date to the Coptic era, with EC521 being particularly beautiful. While the stela is largely complete, it is unfortunately now in five fragments. The decoration features two birds facing one another and rosettes around the edge (fig 4) The name of the deceased would have been carved on the bottom register, although for some reason it was left empty. Once in Cardiff the fragments will be cleaned and restored.

Fig. 4: Coptic stela (EC521)

Other objects sent to Cardiff for conservation include our model funerary boat (W361), twenty-three coffin clamps from the burial of the mother of the Buchis Bull at Armant, an alabaster dish (W408), several textiles, model tools from Meroe (EC686), and four pottery vessels. Our visit to Cardiff also provided the opportunity to see the latest work on AB118, a Late Period coffin belonging to a man named Ankhpakhered, which was later usurped by Djedhor. Now that the lid of the coffin is “finished”, work will continue with the base (fig. 5). It is expected that the conservation of AB118 will continue for a few years yet.

Fig. 5: Interior of the coffin base (AB118)

Later in the academic year I hope to have a few guest posts from some of the students working on our objects!