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Wednesday, 21 September 2022

The Archaeologist and The Artist

The blog post for this week has been written by Isobel Jackson-Scibona, who is currently undertaking a three-month paid placement at the Egypt Centre funded by Swansea University’s Graduate Support Programme. During this placement, Isobel will be producing illustrations of objects in the collection, with a particular focus on the unpublished material from Armant.

My childhood was spent surrounded by art. With both parents either teaching art or making it themselves, I grew up eagerly entering every Eisteddfod competition with my creations and was even awarded the title of Art Honours Student in sixth form. Having decided early on that I would follow in my parents’ footsteps and do my teacher training after A-levels, this all changed when I discovered my passion for Ancient History. However, I still had a deep love for art, finding that my particular style lent itself best to detailed analytical studies of objects rather than emotive and expressive pieces. This was much to the frustration of my poor teacher Mrs Eddy, who spent countless hours trying to help me loosen up, giving me nothing but A2 pieces of paper, a chunk of charcoal and my floundering imagination. Despite her best efforts, and later amazing tutelage by the lecturers at Coleg y Cymoedd during my Foundation Diploma, I knew that teaching art in a school was just not in my cards (fig. 1).


Fig. 1: 2007 to 2022: An ongoing love of drawing and art but luckily a visible improvement!

Having been able to explore Latin in school and been lucky enough to study Classical Civilisation at A-level, I was introduced to the ancient world through Homer’s epics. I distinctly remember sitting in the Classics classroom at Howells School, being surrounded by the smell of old tomes, the gentle creaking of the building’s 1860s wooden panelling from the warmth of the old school radiators and a particularly heated discussion of how much we hated Jason in Euripides’ Medea. Despite there being only two of us taking the A-level, the infectious passion Miss Jenkins displayed and the way she could paint vivid images of rich history from Greece to Rome and beyond made me realise that I had become completely and utterly ensnared in the study of ancient worlds. It was all I wanted to do.

It was at Swansea University that my dream came to fruition, I pursued my degree in Egyptology and Classical Civilisation whilst eagerly absorbing any bits of information I could, even going as far as to attend extra classes that I had not enrolled in. Upon completing my BA Honours with a first-class degree, I decided that it was time for a new challenge, an MSc in Archaeological Science. This opportunity would allow me to study the areas of Osteoarchaeology and Zooarchaeology at Cardiff University, from some of the best in the field. As I’m pretty sure my old GCSE teachers would agree, I do not have a scientific bone in my body (pun intended). When plunging head first into the MSc, with a rather nagging sense of imposter syndrome and irrational fear of spilling a can of Pepsi on some very expensive lab equipment, I was comforted to see that one of my optional modules was Artefact Illustration. My heart leapt as I realised that no matter how much of an outsider I felt, being surrounded by so many incredible minds in white coats, this would be my chance to shine (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: I often like to share photographs of my work in progress, explaining the process of drawing artefacts by hand and the techniques I use.

Having gone on to achieve a distinction in the illustration module, I began sharing some of my work online hoping to find opportunities to practise my new skill. I was then contacted by Ken Griffin at the Egypt Centre who has very kindly hired me as an intern to illustrate some of the collection. Ken has also put his trust in me to render a number of flints from Egypt Exploration Society’s unpublished excavations at Armant during the 1930s, hopefully culminating with them being published alongside accurate illustrations that would further enrich their study (fig. 3). My deepest thanks go out to Ken for this experience and for listening to my excited ramblings on flint, pens and permatrace paper!

Fig. 3: Flint flake from the unpublished excavations at Armant

The question I most often get asked is, “with all the technology we have today, why do we still draw artefacts?”. The best answer I can give is that there are simple details that can be conveyed more easily through illustration than through photography. This is especially relevant to flints and metals that contain purposeful surface marks that can’t all be shown simultaneously in a single photograph, such as the directional strikes of the knapping process for stone tools (fig. 4).


Fig. 4: Whilst the photographs are very high quality and great for analysing W1370, the inclusion of accompanying illustrations allows for additional information to be conveyed (such as the direction of flaking/knapping).

When illustrating artefacts, the main principle is that you as an artist, are simply translating the object into another form. There is no room for an artistic license or attempts to make something appear more aesthetically pleasing, your job is to document the piece in a way that is accurate and interpretable by all. In order to do this, there are certain rules that must be adhered to in order to make sure that any scholar who sees the drawing is able to gain the information needed (such as material, scale and texture) and even use multiple artefact images to cross-reference details. To put it very simply:

1.         There is no global light—if you are right-handed you draw as if the light is coming from the top left (and vice versa). You use this rule and not the actual light source you are working with.

2.         Each material has its own marks—flint is directional line work, metal is stippling, pottery is a more organic mix of both etc. The marks you use act as a key to immediately identify an artefact and its material.

3.         A scale must always be included. Just as with object and excavation photography there should always be an appropriate scale included.

4.         Objects should be drawn with publication in mind—if you are drawing a 3cm long arrowhead at 1:1 scale, be aware of how the image may lose sharpness if blown up for an A2 poster presentation or display on a whiteboard. Equally, bigger drawings should avoid having areas of shading that are too heavy, as when the image is reduced for A4 printing in a book, the darker areas may condense down and bleed into nothing more than a blob of black ink.

5.         Whilst not necessarily a main principle, I prefer to draw the objects by hand with high-quality pens, only tidying up the linework digitally using Adobe packages. I find that physically drawing on paper gives you more control when recreating linework than using a digital tablet. However, this can differ between artists.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this short blog. I wanted it to serve as an introduction to not only myself, but some of the exciting work taking place at the Egypt Centre and the techniques behind it!

If you would like to know more about the illustration process or get in contact, feel free to email me at or on my Instagram blog @the_exhausted_historian.

Monday, 5 September 2022

Revamping the House of Life

Exciting developments took place at the Egypt Centre during the final week of July. Thanks to income raised from donations and course fees over the past twelve months, we were able to purchase a new case for our House of Life gallery to replace the smaller one displaying our Writing, Maths, and Measuring exhibit. The new case was produced and installed by Glasshaus Displays, who had previously designed other cases for the Egypt Centre. It doubles the amount of display space compared to the previous case. The case will be divided into two parts: On the left, the theme of Writing, Maths, and Measuring will be maintained, with the objects previously on display already having been redisplayed (fig. 1). On the right, the additional space will allow us to put on temporary exhibitions for the first time. To coincide with the Sixth EES Congress, which is being hosted by Swansea University, the first display will be of objects in the Egypt Centre originating from the excavations undertaken by the Egypt Exploration Society. The exhibition will be installed over the next three weeks ready for the in-person element of the conference taking place at the university over the weekend of the 1st–2nd October. At the conclusion of this exhibition, the case will be used by students enrolled on the CL-M77 module (Reaching the Public: Museums and Object Handling), who will have the opportunity to curate their own display!

Fig. 1: Redisplay of the Writing, Maths, and Writing case

Additionally, we also retrofitted eleven cases previously installed by Glasshaus in the House of Life over the past fifteen years. New LED lights have now replaced the fibre optic lighting. This has several benefits: long lifespan; energy efficiency; improved environmental performance; no heat of UV emissions; and instant lighting with the ability to withstand frequent switching on and off. The most noticeable difference, however, has been the greatly enhanced lighting conditions. Since the fibre optics were fed by a single 100-watt bulb, this meant that the amount of light dispersed throughout the larger cases was particularly low. This was most evident in our Stone case, which made it difficult for visitors to adequately see the objects on display. The new LED lights have suddenly improved the visitor experience with vibrant lighting throughout. A comparison to the Stone case before and after really highlights the difference (figs. 2–3).

Fig. 2: Stone case with fire optic case lighting

Fig. 3: Stone case with new LED lighting

New ERCO track lighting was also purchased and installed in both galleries, which is a great improvement. The previous track lighting used halogen bulbs, which consumed a lot of energy and generated considerable heat, the latter being particularly harmful to many objects. The new track lighting use LED lights (fig. 4), which reduce the heat, while also cutting energy consumption by up to 80% compared to the previous system.

Fig. 4: Lintel and stelae illuminated by new LED spotlights

Interpretation panels were added in each of the cases in the House of Life, a practice first introduced to our Metals and Predynastic cases. As is the policy in Wales, the panels are bilingual (Welsh and English), which means that the text is rather limited by the space available. However, the panels help to give the displays more context (fig. 5). Over the coming months, bilingual labels will be added for each of the objects, which will further enhance the displays for visitors.

Fig. 5: Pottery case with a new interpretation panel

The feedback we have received from staff, volunteers, and visitors has been very positive. Many have remarked how the new lighting and interpretation panels have enhanced their experience. Thank you to everyone who has supported the Egypt Centre over the past twelve months. These improvements could not have been made without you!

Monday, 29 August 2022

Launch of the Sixth Egypt Exploration Society Congress

This week sees the launch of the Sixth biannual Egypt Exploration Society Congress (#EESCon6), which is hosted by colleagues at Swansea University. The Congress provides a platform for researchers to present their ongoing projects and discoveries to a broad audience of peers and the interested public through brief 20-minute presentations and posters. Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the previous Congress (hosted by Durham University in 2020) took place exclusively via Zoom. This helped the Society to engage with different audiences, both academic and non-academic, while also greatly increasing accessibility. Following on from this success, the Congress will be held across online events throughout September and will culminate in an in-person/hybrid weekend on Saturday 1st–Sunday 2nd October. The online event is completely free and can be booked here. Note that you will have to register for each of the panels that you wish to attend. The full programme of events can be found here.

The event kicks off on Thursday 1st September with the keynote lecture and poster session. The keynote will focus on the objects in the Egypt Centre collection associated with the Egypt Exploration Society. Many originate from the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome, who sponsored the excavations at Amarna and Armant during the 1920–30s. The objects from Amarna include pottery, painted plaster from the North Riverside Palace (fig. 1), statue fragments, architectural elements, and styli. From Armant we have a large stela commemorating the burial of the mother of the sacred Buchis Bull, which dates to the reign of Commodus (AD 190), a scribal statue of a well-known Thirteenth Dynasty official called Teti, pottery, coffin clamps, and two spheroconical vessels, which are often interpreted as grenades from the crusades!

Fig. 1: Painted plaster from the North Riverside Palace at Amarna

Over 300 objects were donated to the collection in 1978 as part of the dispersal of the “disposable remains” of the EES excavations. Kate Bosse-Griffiths, the curator of the collection in Swansea at the time, talks about going on a “treasure hunt” to London to collect these objects. The majority of the objects are small, with many originating from the excavations at Amarna (fig. 2). Others can be traced to Abydos, Bubastis, Deir el-Bahari, Ihnasya el-Medina, Naukratis, Nebesheh, and Sesebi. Several other donations containing material excavated by the EES will also be highlighted in the keynote lecture on Thursday.

Fig. 2: A ring bezel from Amarna with the name of Amun-Re

Following the keynote, audience members will be able to view the poster presentations and ask questions to the presenters. The posters have already been uploaded to the EES website and are available to view in advance here:

Other events will take place throughout the month, including a quiz (16th September) and a virtual tour of the Egypt Centre collection (30th September). During the latter, attendees will be able to see the recently refurbished House of Life gallery for the first time. To coincide with the Congress, we will be putting on a temporary exhibition in this gallery to showcase objects excavated by the Society. Throughout the month of September, I’ll be preparing this exhibition, but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of the case (fig. 3)!

Fig. 3: Sneak peek at the new case waiting to be filled with EES objects

If you’re able to join us in-person over the weekend of the 01–02 October at Swansea University, you’ll have to opportunity to see the museum and the temporary exhibition. Once again, the online portion of this hybrid weekend is free, with a small fee for those attending in-person. Do note that tickets for the in-person event are limited, so please book ASAP via the following link if you haven’t already. We look forward to hosting the EES Congress and to welcoming some of you to Swansea in October!

Monday, 8 August 2022

Coins in the Egypt Centre Collection

This blog post is written by Dr George Watson, a Roman historian and numismatist, with particular interests in the social and economic history of the 3rd century AD and bronze coinage in the Roman world. His research focuses on the ways in which coin production reflects societal relations in the ancient world, and in particular the relationship between the Roman state and the wider population of the Roman empire.

When I began working in the Department of Classics at Swansea in January 2021, colleagues quickly made me aware of the brilliant collections of the Egypt Centre and in particular—given that my research focuses on the coinage of the Greek and Roman worlds—its coin collection. Conversations with Ken Griffin made it clear that not all of the Egypt Centre’s coins had been fully documented. Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, Professor Nigel Pollard organised weekly workshops for students to document the coins, but this had to be curtailed because of the subsequent lockdown. Following on from this work, we put together a plan to make it easier to use the coins in teaching, research, and of course, displays in the Egypt Centre itself.

The first step was to identify and catalogue the coins, and to record all of this information in the Egypt Centre’s online database. This would ensure that anyone wanting to use the coins—for whatever purpose—would know what was there! We then planned to link the coins to a number of numismatic portals hosted by the American Numismatic Society and others that would make the specimens more readily available to researchers—more on this below.

All of the coins had already been photographed, which meant that I could do a lot of the work from home during the pandemic, but I also spent a number of afternoons in the stores of the museum, looking more closely at the coins, weighing them, and recording other measurements. Some of the coins had already been tentatively identified, but I wanted to make sure that reference was made to the latest scholarly literature wherever possible. This initial cataloguing allows a summary of the collection as follows: 14 Greek coins, 2 Roman republican coins, 56 Roman imperial coins, 13 Roman provincial coins, 20 Parthian coins, and 9 post-antique coins. Below is a brief discussion of some of the highlights of the collection:

Fig. 1: Silver denarius of Domitian

The majority of coins in the collection are Roman, and the principal coin of the Roman empire was the silver denarius, of which EC1527 is an excellent example (fig. 1). It is a denarius of the emperor Domitian, who ruled AD 81–96, weighing 2.93g and with a diameter of 19mm. The inscriptions on both sides are in Latin and give Domitian’s names and titles. Because the emperor’s titles changed throughout his reign, we are able to use this information to date the coin to the period AD 95–96. The reverse image shows Minerva, the goddess of wisdom who was Domitian’s patron deity.


Fig. 2: Bronze sestertius of Caligula

Alongside the silver denarius, the Roman empire’s monetary system also included bronze and gold coins. EC1534 is an example of a bronze sestertius, four of which made up a denarius (fig. 2). It was struck during the reign of the emperor Caligula (AD 37–41). Although the coin is quite worn and the image difficult to make out, the reverse originally bore an image of Caligula’s three sisters, who were all named in the reverse legend: Agrippina, Drusilla, and Julia. This is quite a momentous depiction: it was the first time any living woman had been depicted and identified on an issue of Roman coinage. This was not, however, a case of happy families. After Drusilla died in AD 38, Agrippina and Julia plotted with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus to overthrow Caligula. The plot was foiled, Lepidus was executed, and the two sisters were exiled.

Fig. 3: Roman provincial coin of Trajan

The coinage of the Roman empire was a very varied entity. Alongside the gold, silver, and bronze coins struck at Rome, there existed a vast array of coins produced by cities of the provinces. These coins, now commonly known as the Roman provincial coinage, were principally made of bronze, and have legends written in Greek. EC1493, struck in the city of Mytilene during the reign of Trajan (AD 98–117), is a good example (fig. 3). Roman provincial coins often combine local and imperial images. The portrait on the obverse of this coin is identified in the legend as Dada, who appears to be a mythical figure associated with Mytilene’s history, but she appears with the features of Matidia, the wife of Trajan.

Fig. 4: Silver drachm of Trajan


Not all Roman provincial coins, however, were bronze. EC1494 (fig. 4) is an example of a silver drachm from the reign of Trajan (AD 98–117) (a drachm was a Greek unit of value, equivalent to one Roman denarius). There has been considerable debate about two aspects of this coin type: the species of camel on the reverse and the place of minting. The camel on the reverse is commonly linked to Trajan's creation of the province of Arabia in AD 106, but if this is the case, we would expect to see the one-humped camelus dromedarius (Arabian camel or dromedary), not the two-humped camelus bactrianus (Bactrian camel). Indeed, many other coins celebrating Trajan's new province of Arabia show a one-humped dromedary (e.g. So why do these coins show a Bactrian camel? Many different explanations have been put forward without agreement: perhaps this coin was celebrating long-distance trade with Bactria, perhaps the humps were simply an engraver's mistake. The place of minting has also been much debated. The style of the obverse dies is very similar to the style of dies used in Rome, but other technical aspects of minting suggest production in Arabia. The most recent study of these coins narrowly favoured production in Rome. Wherever they were minted, hoard evidence shows that these coins circulated predominantly in the Levant.

Fig. 5: Billon tetradrachm of Numerian

Unsurprisingly, the Egypt Centre’s collections contain numerous Roman provincial coins from the Roman province of Egypt. Egypt’s provincial coinage was a little different from other provinces, firstly because the mint of Alexandria struck coins for the entirety of the province, and secondly because most coins produced were not made of bronze, but of debased silver, an alloy that we call billon. EC1540 (fig. 5) is an example of a billon tetradrachm (four drachms) struck at Alexandria during the reign of the short-lived emperor Numerian (AD 283–284). An interesting feature of the Alexandrian provincial coinage is the inclusion of a regnal date. On this coin, you can see the letters L B on the reverse. L is the Egyptian demotic symbol for “year”, and B is the Greek numeral for 2. So this coin was struck during the second year of Numerian’s reign, that is to say—because Egyptian years began in August—between August 283 and August 284.

Fig. 6: Example of a brockage


The collection also includes a nice example of what might be termed a minting mistake from antiquity. EC1526 is a type of coin that we call a brockage (fig. 6). You can see that instead of having a normal reverse design, the reverse shows the same image as the obverse, but mirrored and in incuse. This occurs because coins in antiquity were struck between two engraved dies. Sometimes a coin would get stuck to the upper die and not be removed before the next coin was struck. In this case, the second coin would be imprinted with the proper obverse design from the lower die, but the upper die would impart not the reverse design but an incuse of the obverse from the stuck coin.

Fig. 7: Siver tetradrachm of Ptolemy I


Although all the examples above come from the Roman period, there are also some nice Greek and Parthian coins in the collection. GR100 is a beautiful silver tetradrachm of Ptolemy I, the first king of the Ptolemaic empire (fig. 7). This coin dates to 306 BC, relatively early in Ptolemy’s reign, and the obverse shows Alexander the Great wearing an elephant headdress, advertising Ptolemy’s connection with the great conqueror. Later in his reign, Ptolemy’s coins would feature a portrait of Ptolemy himself on the obverse.

Once all the coins were catalogued, we wanted to make them more widely available to the scholarly community. One great way to do this is to get them included in various online numismatic portals. These portals typically host a standardised typology, which can then list various specimens of each type, where the specimens are hosted on the websites of individual museums. The two major portals the Egypt Centre was able to contribute to were Online Coins of the Roman Empire (OCRE) for Roman imperial coins, and Roman Provincial Coinage online (RPC online) for Roman provincial coins. These portals are all designed according to the principles of Linked Open Data, which provides a stable format for referring to real-world concepts (like coin denominations or Roman emperors) and makes it easy to connect the mass of numismatic data available on the internet.

These portals gather coins from many of the most important coin collections around the world, and it is great to see the Egypt Centre’s coins alongside specimens from, for example, the British Museum, the American Numismatic Society, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. For example, on this type, the Swansea coin finds its place alongside 180 other examples (as of 29/06/2022) from museums right across the world. Sometimes, however, the Swansea coin really stands out. For this denarius type of Nerva, the Egypt Centre’s coin (fig. 8) is the only example of the type that has been digitised. Therefore, whenever anyone searches online for an image of this coin type, the Egypt Centre’s coin is the one they will come across.

It has been a lot of fun diving into the Egypt Centre’s coin collection, and I’d encourage you to explore the coin collection online, or maybe pop into the museum and ask Ken to show you the coins themselves!

Monday, 1 August 2022

The Nomarchs of the Middle Kingdom

The blog post for this week is written by Linda Kimmel, from Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the United States. When she retired from full-time work as a data research manager in late 2020, she began studying the ancient world, and serving as a docent at the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Linda had never heard of the Egypt Centre before the COVID-19 Pandemic but has taken every course offered since she first noticed a tweet about the museum in the fall of 2020 and hopes to visit Swansea in 2023.

Many people can name at least one Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. But the Pharaohs could not rule Egypt alone. In a time before planes, trains, automobiles, and modern forms of communication, and in a land spanning hundreds of miles, other officials were needed. If the Pharaoh was to rule efficiently and have control over the entire country, he needed representatives permanently placed throughout the country, and the nomarchs helped serve this purpose (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Statue of Ukhhotep II and his family (MFA 1973.87)

In the final session in the latest Egypt Centre course—Middle Kingdom Studies—our instructor Ken Griffin focused on lower-level officials, with most of our time devoted to the nomarchs. Egypt was divided into nomes, or administrative regions, to enhance control of the entire country by the Pharaoh. Each nome was governed by a nomarch, a regional governor or ruler, although sometimes one nomarch would govern two nomes. The number of nomes fluctuated over time, but for the Middle Kingdom there were 42 nomes, with 22 in Upper Egypt and 20 in Lower Egypt. The nomes served as religious and economic centers for the surrounding countryside and villages.  


Duties of the Nomarchs

In return for royal favors, the nomarchs were expected to help with the defense of the country, to enhance its economy, and to act as the Pharaoh’s deputies. Depending on the location of the nome, some nomarchs had strategic importance for defending the frontier, serving as a staging point for the defense of the country from foreign countries. Nomarchs also played critical roles with Egypt’s economy, being charged with collecting taxes from their nomes. Nomarchs were responsible for maintaining facilities in their nome related to agricultural production such as irrigation and the canals. The relative power, and independence of the nomarchs fluctuated throughout the period, and seems to have declined precipitously under the reign of Senwosret III.  

Sources about the Nomarchs

As a political scientist who has focused on American politics and political behavior, if I wanted to know what the responsibilities and duties are of local governors or mayors, I would consult such official documents as state constitutions and city charters. If I wanted to learn about specific past local officials, I might consult their autobiographies or biographies (if the person was prominent enough). Our sources for the nomarchs are quite different. Much of what we know comes from their tombs, with a few having extensive biographies on their tomb walls.

Fig. 2: The tomb of Khnumhotep II (

The tombs of the nomarchs reached their peak during the Middle Kingdom. Most of the tombs were rock cut, constructed at sites with striking natural features in the cliffs along the Nile. They were highly decorated, with painting typically used rather than relief carving. Themes of nature and landscape were common, as well as scenes of agriculture, cattle breeding, and trades such as boat building, pottery, and weaving.

In our class we covered the major centers of importance for the nomarchs: Beni Hasan, Meir, el-Bersheh, Elephantine, and Thebes, and within those centers, the key nomarchs. I found all of them interesting, but will focus here on my favorites, Khnumhotep II and Amenemhat, both nomarchs at Beni Hasan, the capital of the 16th nome of Upper Egypt.

Fig. 3: Khnumhotep II fowling

Khnumhotep II

The Khnumhoteps were a primary family of nomarchs from Beni Hasan, with Khnumhotep II the most well-known. Khnumhotep II served as nomarch in the Twelfth Dynasty, during the reigns of Amenemhat II and Senwosret II. The extensive autobiographical inscriptions in his tomb (Tomb 3 at Beni Hasan) provide much of what is known about the nomarchs, including such information as what they did, how they performed their duties, and the transmission of the Khnumhotep family’s positions and properties. The text runs below this scene of Khnumhotep II (fig. 2). A closeup of the scene on the left shows clearly how much larger Khnumhotep II is in scale than anyone else in the scene; he is presenting himself in the same over-sized way as the Pharaohs (fig. 3). We learned in class that such fishing and fowling scenes represent order over chaos, and by this depiction, Khnumhotep II showed that he could control nature. In addition to the autobiographical inscriptions, the tomb is perhaps most known for what is often termed the “Beni Hasan painting,” featuring a group of representatives, often labeled Hyksos (fig. 4). Without getting into any controversies about interpreting the meaning of the people in the scene (see Cohen 2016), I wonder what is being said about Khnumhotep II by including this scene in his tomb. Is the scene meant to indicate that Khnumhotep II was respected, or had authority over, people from other countries? Or did it mean he was somehow involved in foreign trade?

Fig. 4: Leaders of the "Hyksos" ((


In contrast to Khnumhotep II, little is known about Amenemhat, who served as nomarch during the reign of Senwosret I at the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty. His father is unattested, and his relationship with other nomarchs is unknown. Texts in his tomb indicate he participated in a military expedition to Nubia (see Favry 2016). So why would this somewhat mysterious nomarch be one of my favorites from the class? In addition to the more typical hunting scenes, Amenemhat’s tomb [Tomb 2 at Beni Hasan] features a wall of “wrestlers” (fig. 5). I have been thinking about this scene, and looking for more information about it since the class ended last week. Ken noted that some of the wrestlers are carrying shields. Is the scene meant to show soldiers practicing for battle? And if so, what was their relationship to Amenemhat? Is the scene meant to relate to the military expedition to Nubia?

Fig. 5: "Wrestlers" in the tomb of Amenemhat

As always, I already am looking forward to our next class, which will start most likely sometime in October. In the meantime, I have barely started tucking into all of the wonderful materials Ken has shared with us about the Middle Kingdom, so anticipate learning much more about the Middle Kingdom before the next class! 


Callender, Gae 2000. The Middle Kingdom R

enaissance. In Ian Shaw (Ed.) The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 148–184. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, Susan 2016. The Beni Hasan tomb painting and scholarship of the Southern Levant. The Ancient Near East Today VI. [Accessed July 28, 2022]

Favry, Nathalie 2016. The transmission of offices in the Middle Kingdom. In Gianluca Miniaci, Wolfram Grajetzki (Eds.) The World of Middle Kingdom Egypt (2000–1550 BC): Contributions on Archaeology, Art, Religion, and Written Sources Middle Kingdom Studies 2, 117–131. London: Golden House Publications.

Grajetzki, Wolfram 2006. The Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt: history, archaeology and society. Duckworth Egyptology. London: Duckworth.

Grajetzki, Wolfram 2009. Court officials of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. Duckworth Egyptology. London: Duckworth.

Monday, 18 July 2022

These are a Few of My Favourite Things!

The blog post for this week is written by Jeanne Whitehurst, who has completed her Certificate of Egyptology from the University of Manchester. She moved to Egypt over ten years ago, just before the revolution. Initially, she lived in Luxor, overlooking Karnak Temple, but now she lives in Aswan overlooking the First Cataract. She was extremely fortunate to have worked with Ted Brock on the sarcophagus of Merenptah (KV 8) as a volunteer.

The Middle Kingdom (c. 2030–1650 BC), which encompasses the Eleventh and Twelfth Dynasties, involved many changes including the ideology of kingship, the organization of society, religious practices, afterlife beliefs, and relations with neighbouring peoples. We can see evidence of this through architecture, sculpture, relief decoration, stelae, jewellery, personal possessions, and literature. Many Middle Kingdom monuments are poorly preserved because Egyptian temples dedicated to deities were often replaced by succeeding kings, which has led to almost no Middle Kingdom temples left standing. Numerous Middle Kingdom pyramids were constructed with mud-brick cores that eroded after their limestone casing was removed. This is regrettable as it was an era of beautiful artwork made with great skill and delicacy.

One of the treasures can be found in the Open Air Museum at Karnak Temple, The White Chapel, built during the reign of the pharaoh Senwosret I (fig. 1). This ruler was the second pharaoh of the Twelfth Dynasty, who was the first king of The Middle Kingdom to begin a large building project. During the Eighteenth Dynasty, it was dismantled and used as foundations in the Third Pylon of the temple. The chapel is constructed of limestone and is approximately 6.8m (22ft) x 6.5m (21ft) around its raised base and 3.8m (12ft) high. The orientation was from north to south when it was originally part of the temple complex with a stepped ramp on these two sides. There are four interior pillars which hold up the roof, surrounded by twelve exterior pillars making four rows of four columns. Originally, it may have been used as a festival kiosk for Senwosret I’s Sed-festival. However, it was later converted to a barque shrine during the reign of Amenemhat III or Amenemhat IV, with an altar of red granite placed in the centre. It was used for this purpose until it was dismantled during the Eighteenth Dynasty!

Fig. 1: The White Chapel

The chapel is beautifully decorated in raised relief depicting the Sed-festival. The hieroglyphs are beautifully carved with intricate detail, especially those of feathers, crowns, baskets, birds, and snakes (fig. 2). For example, there are three different types of snakes, the horned viper and two cobras; the spitting cobra, with its zigzag pattern under its head and drawn in a strike position, and the Egyptian Cobra, which is shown in a variety of defence postures. The lower registers around the outside of the chapel are inscribed in sunk relief. It shows different personifications of the Nile, but more importantly all the nomes of Egypt at that time. The nomes of Upper Egypt are written on the West side whilst those of Lower Egypt are on the opposite Eastern side. I know there are a myriad of favourites in Karnak Temple, but this is a haven of tranquillity, an ideal place to study and contemplate in beautiful surroundings.

Fig. 2: Detail of the White Chapel

In contrast, Buhen was a massive fortress located on the west bank of the Nile in Lower Nubia (ancient Wawat, now Northern Sudan), 156 miles south of Aswan. The fortress was constructed during the reigns of Senwosret I and Senwosret III during the Twelfth Dynasty and both pharaohs were later worshipped as deified rulers at a temple on the site. The fortress was built south of a sprawling Old Kingdom settlement from which copper ore was mined and then transported north to Egypt. The fortress was occupied throughout the Middle Kingdom until the New Kingdom and isolated communities continued to reside here until the waters of Lake Nasser submerged the site in 1964 (fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Buhen in the 1960s

The Egyptians built fifteen fortifications along the banks of the Nile in Lower Nubia (fig. 4). All these fortresses had four main purposes, to secure control over Lower and Upper Nubia, to control the commercial routes from Kush, support for pharaonic armies in campaigns against Kush, and to stop raids by the Kushites. The fort covered an area of 13,000 square metres, extending more than 150 metres in length, and was defended by a 10-metre-high enclosure wall made of brick and stone with a surrounding moat. It ran all around connecting the northern and southern spur walls fitted with towers at regular intervals. A towering gateway on the western side gave access to the waterfront’s two quays. There were bastions all around apart from the eastern side, with loopholes inserted for archers to defend the fortress. The entrance was protected by enormous wooden doors.

Fig. 4: Location of the fortresses

Inside the walls was a citadel—whose interior was set out on a grid system with the buildings being separated by streets—there was a two-storied garrison, a commandant’s palace, storage magazines, and a temple to Horus of Buhen (fig. 5). It is thought around 1,000 soldiers were housed there. Apart from the plans of the site, which I love, the reason it is a favourite is because the Nubian Museum contains some old photographs taken during the excavation of the site. These stirred my imagination, wishing I could be there to see it. Sadly, it is now under the waters of Lake Nasser with just a model of the site on view.

Fig. 5: The relocated temple of Buhen

I love the jewellery of the Middle Kingdom as it is of the highest quality, both sides just as beautifully made. The decoration may be birds, plants with animals, quite often lions and bulls, royal titulary, and the hieroglyphs for protection, joy, and life (fig. 6). They used a variety of techniques, including openwork and granulation, the latter being a type of decoration in which minute grains or tiny balls of gold are applied to a surface in geometric or linear patterns or massed to fill in parts of the decoration. This technique was known in Western Asia and Egypt. It had perhaps been brought from Asia into Egypt as the tomb of Khnumhotep II (BH3) at Beni Hasan depicts “Hyksos” bringing tools for metal production.

Fig. 6: Pectoral of Sithathor

During the late Middle Kingdom, princesses were buried with sumptuous finery near the pyramids of the pharaohs. Sadly, the number of finds is limited as many tombs were plundered. Although there were other grave goods, I would like to concentrate on the jewellery of Princess Khnumet as I think the standard of workmanship is outstanding. Khnumet’s tomb was found by Jacques de Morgan in the pyramid complex built by her father, Amenemhat II at Dahshur, about 30km (about 19 miles) south of Cairo. Although the pyramid was in a deplorable state, around the west enclosure wall de Morgan found three underground galleries. The first gallery excavated belonged to the king’s daughters, Khnumet and Ita, both bodies were inside three containers but in a poor state. However, around Khnumet’s neck was a beautiful broad collar, which has gold falcon-headed terminals, with inlaid lapis lazuli to replicate the markings of the falcon, including the eyes and mouth (fig. 7). The collar itself is made of 103 pieces of gold in the shape of an ankh (life), djed (stability), and was (dominion).

Fig. 7: Collar of Khnumet

Perhaps, the most exquisite jewellery are the two golden crowns, one is a circlet that has nearly 200 small flowers with a carnelian centre and five turquoise-inlaid petals, each connected by gold wires to smaller gold flowers (fig. 8). On each side are five clusters of lotus blossoms, the hieroglyphic sign for life. The other crown is of heavier gold and inlaid with the same gemstones. In the middle between rosettes and flowering plants stretches a vulture made of gold leaf with black obsidian eyes. Vultures are an insignia of a queen, but there is no evidence that Khnumet ever reached this rank.

Fig. 8: Floral crown of Khnumet

Among all the treasures of the Middle Kingdom, wooden tomb models must be many people’s favourite. The difference in craftsmanship might seem obvious but even the simplest of these models demands a high degree of workmanship. Choosing a favourite is difficult as they all have a charm, but I have decided on the Meketre models found in his tomb on the West Bank of Luxor (TT 280), high up in the cliffs. He was chief steward under Mentuhotep II and served until the early years of the Twelfth Dynasty. These remarkably well-preserved models with their quality of carving and painting, their colours, the linen garments on some of the figures, the design of boats with their original rigging, all help us to take a glimpse into everyday life in the Middle Kingdom. The raising and slaughtering of livestock, making bread and beer, storing grain, noble houses, cattle census, and even scribes recording their inventory, providing everything for the afterlife, which also tells us about the Egyptian belief that these models could help magically supply eternal sustenance (fig. 9). Unfortunately, there is no Egyptian word that defines these types of burial goods.

Fig. 9: Model boat of Meketre

The story of the find is almost as fascinating as the models themselves. All accessible rooms of the tomb had been robbed in antiquity, but in 1920 Herbert Winlock wanted to obtain an accurate floor plan for his map on the Eleventh Dynasty necropolis at Thebes, so he set the workmen to clean out the debris. It was during this cleaning operation that the small hidden chamber was discovered. There were twenty-four almost perfectly preserved models found there (fig. 10). They would be eventually divided between The Egyptian Museum in Cairo and The Metropolitan Museum in New York. I have been very fortunate to visit both museums, in the Met, gallery 105, and the Cairo Museum, room 27 on the upper floor. In Cairo, I have gazed at these objects marvelling at the detail. The fishermen dragging their nets with fish already in them, while the rowers are at each corner, Meketre under his shelter, while a man at the front is using his plumbline to test the depth of the water and the man at the stern is guiding the boat. Now I need to revisit them, as Sam Powell, who is researching tomb models for her PhD has given us far more insight into these models.

Fig. 10: Offering bearer of Meketre

Thank you, Sam and Ken, for making the Middle Kingdom come alive in such an informative way. I can’t wait for the next Zoom course at the Swansea Egypt Centre!