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Monday, 15 May 2023

The Domestic Piety Case

Continuing on from previous blog posts presenting the displays in the House of Life gallery, this week’s entry with focus on the Domestic Piety case. As with the previous cases, this display was created in 1998 for the opening of the Egypt Centre and has remained largely the same ever since. In total, there are seventeen objects on display, including three on long-term loan since 2005 from the British Museum. The idea behind the case is that, as the name suggests, the objects relate to personal piety or religion in the home. While evidence of personal piety existed before the New Kingdom, it is from this period onwards that we see a greater prevalence (Luiselli 2008; 2014). This is particularly the case within the community of workmen at Deir el-Medina, where a few of the objects in this case originate from. This blog post will present some of the objects on display in this case (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The domestic piety case

One of the objects from Deir el-Medina is a limestone ostracon (W1327). The object was previously part of the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell, which was purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1906. It can be traced back to lot 75, which is described in the auction catalogue as consisting of “three stelae and various fragments”. On the front of the ostracon there is decoration in red ink, which includes a cow in the upper half and four figures in the lower half (fig. 2). While the decoration is somewhat difficult to see, it becomes much clearer when running the image through DStretch (fig. 3). The cow has a sun disc between her horns, which clearly identify her as the goddess Hathor. Hathor is a goddess who is well-known from Deir el-Medina, including within the home. She was associated with music, dance, joy, love, sexuality, and maternal care. The provenance of the item is known from the writing on the reverse of the ostracon, which is commonly found on objects originating from the collection of Rustafjaell. Also on the reverse is a rectangular serrated sticker with the printed number 21. This was added by the Assyriologist William St. Chad Boscawen (1854–1913), who was tasked with cataloguing Wellcome’s Egyptian collection from 1906 until his death in 1913. His catalogue entry for the ostracon describes it as a “sandstone (sic) ostraca with artists design. A cow & male figures in red outline”.

Fig. 2: Ostracon from Deir el-Medina

Fig. 3: DStretch of ostracon

Also from Deir el-Medina is fragment of a Bes vessel (W1702), which was also purchased in 1906 from the Rustafjaell collection (fig. 4). As with the previous object, the writing on the back of the fragment provides the provenance. The face of Bes is created using four shallow horizontal lines for the forehead, with his eyebrows and eyelids formed by arches: five arches on the left and two on the right. The eyes are concave oval shapes, with smaller ovals inside to form the pupils. The nose is triangular, connected to a downcurved arch; the triangle and arch protrude from the surface. The tongue is sticking out under the nose. Fragments of the outline of the face are preserved, created by a thick line, and on the top right an ear is preserved. The ear is a semi-circle attached to the face outline. Such vessels probably contained wine or milk and date to the New Kingdom. Bes was a household protector, becoming responsible for such varied tasks as killing snakes, fighting off evil spirits, watching after children, and aiding women in labour by fighting off evil spirits (Bagh & Manniche 2021).

Fig. 4: Bes vessel

Two other Bes vessels are on display in the case, both of which are complete. W1283 is a small ellipsoid jar made from a fine Marl clay (fig. 5). It is a wheel-made vessel with a ring base and a collar around the transition from the shoulder and the neck. The vessel’s rim has been broken and now has an uneven jagged rim. The vessel has a stylised depiction of the god Bes made of applied decoration that has been carefully sculpted. This example dates to the Ptolemaic Period and comes from the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor, which was sold at auction in 1922. This vessel was affectionally referred to by Kate Bosse-Griffiths as the “humpty dumpty” pot because of its striking resemblance to the character. EC546 likely dates to the Late Period also has an extremely stylised image of the god Bes, with just the eyes applied as decoration.

Fig. 5: Bes vessel

Two further objects in the case feature the popular Bes. British Museum EA2569 is a wooden cosmetic container in the form of a standing figure of the god Bes, shown with leonine features, wearing a wig and short kilt (fig. 6). His arms are slightly bent at the elbow, with hands resting on his thighs. There is a cylindrical hollow drilled down from the top of the head to contain cosmetics. The vessel would have been covered by a lid, which is now missing. A small hole is present where the attachment of the lid once fitted. It was dated by Gay Robins to the period between the reign of Amenhotep III and Tutankhamun (Robins 1995, 22). This object has been on long-term loan at the Egypt Centre since 2005 from the British Museum who acquired it from the collection of Henry Salt in 1821. The other item is a fragment of blue faience showing part of the face of Bes (EC257). This is possibly part of a faience vessel dating to the Late Period.

Fig. 6: Cosmetic vessel of Bes

Just like the Bes vessels discussed previously, Hathor vases were also common. W1284a is part of a pottery vessel showing a cow’s head to represent the goddess Hathor (fig. 7). Such vessels seem to have been used from the Middle Kingdom to contain wine or milk. Festivals of Hathor often contained an element of drunkenness but on many temple estates cows were kept to produce sacred milk. This object was also purchased by Wellcome in 1906 from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell. W5364 is a small bag-shaped jar that has been wheel-made. There is an incised line that has applied decoration attached, just beneath the rolled rim (outside), which depicts the horns of a cow and sun disc linking it to the goddess Hathor.

Fig. 7: Hathor vessel

AB129 is an object that I have a close fondness for since it was the subject of my first ever article, which was written to mark the occasion of Professor Alan Lloyd’s retirement at Swansea University (Griffin 2007). This limestone fragment is part of an ꜣḫ i͗ḳr n Rꜥ stela (fig. 8). On the left, the dedicatee is seated on a high-backed chair wearing a wig with fillet and a wesekh-collar. He has a short beard and wears a short wig with a fillet band tied around it. The curved end of the top of the chair can be seen just above the collar. In his left hand he holds a lotus-flower, which sinuously curls away from his body with its blossom looping back towards his face, giving the impression that he is sniffing its pleasing fragrance. In his right hand he appears to be holding a bouquet of flowers, the remains of which can be seen just in front of him. Traces of brown and white paint on the surface. In the lunette above the scene is an inscription, written over several vertical lines. The text, which is incomplete, can be tentatively reconstructed based on other examples of this type. It concludes with the name of the dedicatee, which to date remains elusive. Ancestor stelae were common during the Ramesside Period. While most often found at Deir el-Medina, this fragment appears to have come from Abydos. It was gifted to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth by John Bancroft Willans, a subscriber of the Egypt Exploration Fund/Society, who received the object in 1903. It was subsequently gifted to the Egypt Centre in 1997.

Fig. 8: Ancestor stela

All the objects in the Domestic Piety case, including those not discussed in this blog, can be viewed here.



Bagh, Tine and Lise Manniche (eds) 2021. Bes: demon god, protector of Egypt. Contributions by Jørgen Podemann Sørensen, Lise Manniche, Christian E. Loeben, Olaf E. Kaper, Pavel Onderka. [Kopenhagen]: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.

Demarée, R. J. 1983. The ꜣḫ i͗ḳr n Rꜥ-stelae: on ancestor worship in ancient Egypt. Egyptologische Uitgaven 3. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten.

Griffin, K. 2007. An ꜣḫ ı͗ḳr n Rꜥ stela from the collection of the Egypt Centre, Swansea. In Schneider, Thomas and Kasia Szpakowska (eds), Egyptian stories: a British Egyptological tribute to Alan B. Lloyd on the occasion of his retirement, 137–147. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.

Luiselli, Maria Michela 2014. Personal piety in ancient Egypt. Religion Compass 8 (4), 105–116.

Luiselli, Michela 2008. Personal piety (modern theories related to). Edited by Jacco Dieleman and Willeke Wendrich. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2008 (July).

Robins, Gay 1995. Reflections of women in the New Kingdom. Ancient Egyptian art from The British Museum, 4 February–14 May 1995. Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University.

Monday, 8 May 2023

New Egypt Centre Course on the Old Kingdom

Later this week, the latest Egypt Centre short course will commence. Following on from the successful course on the Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods, this course will focus on the Old Kingdom.


Course Synopsis

The Old Kingdom (c. 2,686–2,181 BC) was one of the golden ages of Egyptian history, a period that determined the form and character of Egyptian society and art for centuries to come. From the Third Dynasty through to the Sixth Dynasty, not only were there monumental building achievements, but the artisans who worked with an array of materials and techniques created masterpieces that even today hold the observer in awe. This period also saw the development of Egyptian literary texts from the briefest notations into autobiography and didactic literature. This course will explore the history of the Old Kingdom, from the reign of Djoser and his famed architect Imhotep, to the possible record-breaking reign of Pepi II.

Fig. 1: The pyramids of Giza



Week 1: (Sunday 14th May and Wednesday 17th May): The Third Dynasty

Week 2: (Sunday 21st May and Wednesday 24th May): The Fourth Dynasty

Week 3: (Sunday 28th May and Wednesday 31st May): The Fifth Dynasty

Week 4: (Sunday 04th June and Wednesday 07th June): The Sixth Dynasty

Week 5: (Sunday 11th June and Wednesday 14th June): The collapse of the Old Kingdom


Dr Ken Griffin is the Curator of the Egypt Centre, Swansea University. Prior to this, he was the Collections Access Manager at the museum. His association with the Egypt Centre first began in 2000 as a volunteer. Over the past two decades, he has been researching the collection, including publishing a number of the objects. Ken is a former lecturer in Egyptology and the coordinating tutor of Egyptology with the Department of Adult Continuing Education (DACE) at Swansea University. He has visited Egypt on over 60 occasions and participated in archaeological work at Abydos, the Valley of the Kings, the South Asasif necropolis, and Sai Island (Sudan).



In order to be as accessible as possible, this 5-week course will be run twice, with sessions taking place via Zoom:

- Sunday evenings 6–8pm (UK time) - Starting Sunday 14th May

- Wednesday mornings 10am–noon (UK time) - Starting Wednesday 17th May

Once registered, you will receive a Zoom link, which can be used for both sessions. Therefore, participants will have the option of attending either day, or both!



This course costs £40, with fees going directly to supporting the Egypt Centre. In particular, the funds will be used to support the development of the Egypt Centre displays. Additionally, participants have the option of adding an extra donation if they wish. Donations, of course, are greatly appreciated! Tickets are available via the following link. Once you have booked, you will automatically receive a confirmation email from Eventbrite. If you haven’t received anything within 24 hours, please contact Ken at

Monday, 1 May 2023

An Update on the Harrogate Collection

It’s just over two months since a collection of more than 700 objects arrived at the Egypt Centre on loan from Harrogate Museum. During this time, a lot of work has been undertaken in researching the objects and preparing them for publication on a new online collection catalogue hosted by Abaset Collections. So far, almost 400 objects have been photographed from multiple angles. Catalogue entries have also been written for around 100 objects, so there is still plenty of work to do before the launch. This is planned for the 7th October to coincide with the Egypt Centre’s Twenty-fifth Anniversary celebrations (more details on this in a future blog!). At the same time, the first temporary exhibition featuring the Harrogate collection will be launched. The title of the exhibition is Causing their Names to Live, which takes inspiration from a common vivification formula found on statues, stelae, and other objects. In fact, one of the statues (fig. 1) on loan from Harrogate (HARGM10634) is dedicated by Nebamun to his daughter Senetre “in order to cause her name to live” (sꜥnḫ rn.s). Over the past two months, more than seventy-five names have been read on the stelae, statues, shabtis, and other objects, so the loan of the collection to Swansea really is helping to cause their names to live!

Fig. 1: Statue of Senetre

The Harrogate collection has already been used for student handling sessions, including several stelae for a module on Egyptian Art and Architecture (fig. 2). Urška Furlan, who recently completed her PhD thesis at Swansea University on Egyptian amulets from the Delta during the First Millennium BC has started cataloguing the amulets from the Harrogate collection. It’s great to have someone with an extensive knowledge and love of Egyptian amulets working on these. At the same time, the pottery from the collection is being catalogued by students as part of the Swansea University Pottery Project (SUPP). The majority of the vessels date to the Predynastic Period, including several from the excavations of Petrie at Naqada. It’s always particularly exciting to find a tomb number written on the vessels!

Fig. 2: Students examining three Harrogate stelae

Quite a few surprises have been made over the past few months. In my initial blog post on the Harrogate loan, I included a photo (fig. 3) of the beautiful faience shabti of Seti I (HARGM3722). Little did I know at the time that the shabti had a very close connection to Swansea University. While examining the manuscript catalogue produced by Benjamin Kent for almost 1,000 of his objects, I was amazed to see that the shabti of Seti had been purchased in 1919 from the collection of Lord Swansea! It was Ernest Ambrose Vivian, 2nd Baron Swansea (1848–1922) who decided to sell the contents of their large nineteenth century mansion, Singleton Abbey. Lot 734 is described as “a collection of ancient Egyptian objects, comprising a fine blue Ushabti figure of Seti 1st, Men-Maat-Ra, 4 others in faience and wood, an alabaster unguent vessel with lid, 2 alabaster pots, swathed in the original mummy wrappings, with unexamined contents, 10 bronze amulets of Osiris on step plinth, a blue faience ring, etc.” In the same year, Singleton Abbey was sold to Swansea Corporation. In 1920 the Corporation rented and in 1923 sold the house and the nucleus of the estate to the University College of Swansea (now Swansea University), which made the Abbey its headquarters. Therefore, it’s quite ironic that the shabti is now back in Swansea just 100 metres away from the Abbey where it was housed over 100 years ago!

Fig. 3: Shabti of Seti I


Another surprise took place just a few weeks ago when I was looking at a rather grotty coffin fragment (HARGM10877) from the Harrogate collection. The fragment contains the remains of a female goddess flanked by columns of hieroglyphs (six in front and two behind). I was immediately drawn by the palaeography of the hieroglyphs, which reminded me of a fragment (EC385) in the Egypt Centre collection. The more I looked at the Harrogate fragment, the more I thought about the Egypt Centre one, so I decided to get it from the store for a closer look. As it happens, the fragments are not just similar, but actually connect together (fig. 4)! This join helps to identify the name of the goddess as Nephthys, while the owner of the coffin and his parents can now be read in full for the first time. While we knew that there would certainly be links between both collections, particularly since they were both formed via auction purchases, we never expected fragments to connect like this!

Fig. 4: Connecting Harrogate (bottom) and Swansea (upper) fragments

Last week we had a visit to the Egypt Centre by Karen Southworth, a curator at Harrogate Museum, to discuss aspects of the loan. Additionally, Katie and Gary from This Film came to record some of the stories relating to the Harrogate collection that we have been able to uncover over the past few months. This was a lot of fun and involved several members of the Egypt Centre staff and volunteers. One of the highlights was visiting the former library of Singleton Abbey, which is possibly where the aforementioned shabti of Seti I was displayed prior to its sale in 1919. This suggestion is based on an old grainy photograph showing what looks like a shabti on a plinth atop the fireplace in the room. While it is impossible to confirm if this is the case, we strongly believe that it is (fig. 5). It seems as if it is fate that the Harrogate collection came to Swansea!

Fig. 5: The shabti of Seti I returning "home" to Singleton Abbey

Monday, 10 April 2023

Early Arts and Crafts: D-Ware Vessels

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 about 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 pandemic but has taken every course offered since she first noticed a tweet about the Centre in the fall of 2020 and has been taking online courses there ever since. She hopes to visit the Egypt Centre in 2024, provided the trains are running!

In our final session of The First Pharaohs: Early Dynastic Egypt course, Ken Griffin covered the Arts and Crafts of the period. While I have taken a number of classes on Egyptian art, I know virtually nothing about Predynastic and Early Dynastic Period arts and crafts. I have led a lot of tours at the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology as a docent, focusing on some of the Museum’s Egyptian collection. However, I have consistently avoided one case that contains artifacts from Pre- and Early-Dynastic Egypt, including a number of ceramic and stone vessels. I did not feel I knew enough about the materials—or the time period—to feel confident in my ability to answer any questions that might arise (fig. 1). Fortunately, that has now changed, thanks to the Egypt Centre!

Fig. 1: Pre- and Early-Dynastic case from the University of Michigan’s Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (photo by Linda Kimmel)

In our last class, we covered many different materials: palettes, pottery, knife handles, ivory labels, tomb paintings, stone, the Scorpion Macehead, metalworking, faience, textiles, woodworking, and hieroglyphs! I learned a lot but can easily imagine a full course devoted to the arts and crafts of the period. While I enjoyed learning about all of the different types of materials, I decided to focus my blog post on one specific type of pottery, Decorated Ware, or D-Ware. Yvonne Buskens-Frenken touched briefly on D-Ware in her fantastic blog post about the first class in this course, but I decided to take a deeper look at D-Ware.

Two types of clay were available for the production of ceramic vessels in Egypt: Nile silt clay and marl clay. D-ware was normally made from marl clay, which was found on the edge of the desert and under cultivation near the desert (Hope 1987). Marl clay is a mix of Nile silt and limestone and fires (under oxidation) to colors generally ranging from pale yellow to buff. The Egypt Centre’s website has a great description of D-Ware, and notes that it was shaped by coiling and smoothing. The decorations were applied before firing, with the paint made from iron oxides.

Fig. 2: W1046 from the Egypt Centre

D-Ware is found during the Naqada II (or Gerzean) Period in Egypt and is distinguishable from previous and later pottery. The vessels feature red paintings on typically cream or buff-colored clay (Smith 1998). The paintings on D-Ware pottery can range from simple geometric or almost abstract designs to intricate designs featuring aspects of the Egyptian landscape such as water and mountains as well as animals, human figures, and boats.

Fig. 3: Kelsey Museum “Pot with Lug Handles,” KM88814 (photo by Linda Kimmel) 

W1046 in the Egypt Centre collection primarily seems to have more abstract or geometric markings (fig. 2). According to the Egypt Centre’s database, it was excavated by Garstang in 1905 from the fort cemetery at Hierakonpolis (grave 137) and was purchased by Wellcome in 1922 at an auction. The Kelsey Museum has a similar pot featuring swirled designs listed as being purchased from the Tano dealership in Cairo (fig. 3). I will be adding this pot to future tours I conduct featuring Egyptian artifacts. A second pot at the Egypt Centre features even fewer markings, with large expanses of unpainted clay (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: W1304 from the Egypt Centre

What I find especially fascinating are the pots with fairly intricate designs, featuring animals, boats, and at times humans, such as W5308 in the Egypt Centre collection (fig. 5). This vessel seems to have a two-cabined boat on either side and was purchased by Wellcome at auction in 1922 from the MacGregor collection. The wavy lines seem to represent the river, but what else is going on here? What does this all mean?

Fig. 5: W5308 from the Egypt Centre

A D-ware vessel at the Metropolitan Museum of Art dates from the Late Naqada II Period and depicts boats and a number of animals (fig. 6). The museum’s website notes that while we cannot know the exact significance of the designs, it seems to “represent important social or religious events”. We can see that there are two males and two females on a boat, and there seem to be two cabins. But what does this mean? Are they involved in a religious ritual? Are they meant to represent gods or goddesses? Are they kings and queens? On another side of the vessel, we can see a host of animals, but are left to wonder what they represent.

Fig. 6: Decorated ware jar depicting ungulates and boats with human figures (MMA 20.2.10

Finally, the Kelsey Museum also has a D-Ware pot with a boat with what seems to be two cabins (fig. 7). Near the top of this pot, we find a number of birds identified as ostriches in the Museum’s label. Why are the birds above the boat? Does this have some significance? This is another artifact I will be adding to my tours of the Egyptian collection; it should result in some great discussions about what the designs might mean.

Fig. 7: Kelsey Museum, “Painted Jar with Boats and Ostriches,” MCCM1921.22. (Lent by the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University)

When Ken introduced pottery during the class, he noted that much of the pottery during this period was more highly decorated than that produced in later Egyptian history. I find this puzzling. Did the Egyptians come to view pottery as more utilitarian and not something that was worth decorating?

I am left with a lot of questions about D-Ware pottery and intend to dig deeper into research about this form of pottery. However, thanks to this latest Egypt Centre course, I now feel confident to include the Predynastic gallery in my tours at the Kelsey Museum, in particular, the lovely example of D-Ware pottery. As I puzzle about the meaning of the scenes on the D-Ware pottery, I’m also equipped with many open-ended questions to ask the people on my tours.

While I am sad this course has ended, I look forward to future Egypt Centre courses. As usual, each week Ken provided us with additional readings to learn more about the topic. I have plenty of reading to do until the next class begins, hopefully in May.



Hope, Colin. 1987. Egyptian Pottery. Princes Risborough: Shire Publications.

Smith, W. Stevenson. 1998. The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Tuesday, 4 April 2023

Religion in Early Dynastic Egypt. Gods

The blog post for this week is written by Judit Blair, who has a Masters in Ancient Near Eastern religions and a PhD in Hebrew and the Old Testament, both from the University of Edinburgh. Judith is a Teaching Fellow at the Centre for Open Learning (COL) Edinburgh University and a Tutor at Glasgow University where she teaches such courses as Ancient Egypt and the Bible, Aspects of Ancient Near Eastern Demonology, and Ancient Monsters. Judit is also a member of Egyptology Scotland and the EES.


Introduction – Origins

The origins of Egyptian religion and the “genesis” of the gods lie in the distant prehistoric times. Before the invention of writing, the available evidence is scant and difficult to interpret. However, the existence of apparent cultic objects and ritual sites, human and animal burials point to “the presence of the concept of the sacred” (R. Wilkinson 2003, 12; David 2002, 40). Although some scholars question whether this evidence is enough to substantiate the existence of a belief in a god or gods (R. Wilkinson 2003, 12), discoveries of rock art in the heart of the Eastern Desert in the early twentieth century and the late 1990s seem to provide proof. Furthermore, these petroglyphs show that many of the key elements of ancient Egyptian religious symbolism, which are known from pharaonic times, originated here (T. Wilkinson 2003, 188). For example, the concept of travelling by boat in the afterlife, an important theme in New Kingdom royal burials, is depicted in the rock art of the Eastern Desert. A boat being dragged by a group of people can be seen in scenes from the Wadi Baramiya (fig. 1), Wadi Hammamat, and Wadi Abu Wasil (T. Wilkinson 2003, plate 21 and p. 189).

Fig. 1: Boat dragged by a group of people (

A scene from Winkler’s site 26 from the Wadi Abu Wasil (fig. 2) shows five figures standing in a boat, two of which are much larger and are wearing tall twin plumes on their heads. These are very likely representations of deities. This scene provides evidence of the existence of two important motifs well attested in pharaonic times: the idea of deities travelling in a boat as well as the pairing of deities (T. Wilkinson 2003, 189–190).

Fig. 2: Boat with figures, Wadi Abu Wasil (T. Wilkinson, plate 19); “Chieftains” (

Some scholars believe that it was only at the beginning of the dynastic period that a few deities appeared in purely anthropomorphic representations (Hornung 1996, 103; David 2002, 52; R. Wilkinson 2003, 14–15). However, T. Wilkinson (2003, 191–192) argues that long before the First Dynasty, on a clearly dateable petroglyph to the middle of the fourth millennium BCE, we have “the oldest certain representation of a god from ancient Egypt” (fig. 3). This figure is labelled the “cattle protector” deity, and it is found at the so-called “jacuzzi” site in the Wadi Umm Salaam in the Eastern Desert (T. Wilkinson 2003, 110). Furthermore, he argues that this figure can be identified with the god Min. This is possible, as the ithyphallic representation and the twin-plumed headdress were typical iconographical markers of this deity.

Fig. 3: “Cattle protector deity” (

Early Gods: Min

“Besides his schoolboy appeal, Min has another claim to fame. He is the earliest individually identifiable god in ancient Egypt” (T. Wilkinson 2003, 191).


Whether one agrees that the above-mentioned figure can be identified as the god Min or not, it is generally accepted that this deity is very ancient and long-lasting. Along with the goddess Neith and others, he was worshipped already in the Naqada Period (Hornung 1996, 103) and throughout pharaonic history.


Min was a fertility god, the “supreme god of male sexual procreativity” as well as the patron of the Eastern Desert (R. Wilkinson 2003, 115; T. Wilkinson 2003, 191). As proof that he was worshipped in predynastic times, scholars usually cite the appearance of his emblem/fetish on predynastic standards and the Scorpion Macehead (Hornung 1996, 103 n. 7), as well as three colossal statues of the god (fig. 4) found by Petrie at Coptos, his cult centre, in 1893 (R. Wilkinson 2003,115). These are now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and date to before the First Dynasty (T. Wilkinson 2003, 191; c. 3300 BCE,, although Hornung doubts their “value as evidence” and maintains that they cannot be earlier than the Third Dynasty (Hornung 1996, 108). However, T. Wilkinson (2003, 191–192) argues that even earlier representations of the god can be found in the Eastern Desert rock art.

Fig. 4: Colossal statue of Min. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (,_Oxford).jpg)

In 1908, Arthur Weigall found some petroglyphs at the Kanais rock-cut temple of Seti I. One of them shows a boat (distinctive Naqada II type) with three huts (fig. 5). On one of them a human figure is standing, wearing what could be a sort of crown and holding a staff in one hand. On top of the middle one there is a bull, possibly a deity/divine image. In front of the third hut stands a figure “who can be no other than the god Min. He is clearly ithyphallic with one arm in front of him and the other held aloft, brandishing a flail.” Wilkinson has no doubt about the identification of this figure nor about the date of the petroglyph.


There can be no doubt about the god shown, and no doubt about the date of the petroglyph. Here, then, we have a recognizable and identifiable god, shown in the form he was to retain throughout the long march of Egyptian civilization, but created by an artist in the middle of the fourth millennium BC, some 500 years before the First Dynasty.


Fig. 5: "Min Boat": (

Indeed, the main iconographical elements of Min known from later periods are consistent with these early representations (fig. 6). He was usually depicted in fully human form, wrapped as a mummy, ithyphallic and standing straight. His legs are close together. His left hand holds his erect penis, his right arm is raised; usually a flail is in or on his raised arm. On his head he wears a cap or a crown with tall twin-plumes and with long streamers attached. His skin is black; this might be a link between his fertility aspect and the fertile black soil of Egypt (R. Wilkinson 2003, 115). At his cult centres of Gebtu (Coptos) and Khent-Min, he was worshipped as a white bull. The bull symbolized sexual virility and clearly represented the god’s fertility (R. Wilkinson 2003, 116). Min’s oldest and main cult centre was at Coptos, at the Wadi Hammamat, which is the entrance to the mining districts of the Eastern Desert; thus, it is not surprising that he was also regarded as the patron god of this region (R. Wilkinson 2003, 116; T. Wilkinson 2003, 191).

Fig. 6: Statuette of Min, Late Period. Art Institute, Chicago (

As we have seen, Min’s origins lie in prehistoric times; he was one the oldest and possibly the earliest identifiable deities represented in human form. His popularity lasted throughout the pharaonic period: in the Middle Kingdom, Min rituals were incorporated into the coronation and the Sed-festivals of the king; during the Eighteenth Dynasty he was associated with Amun, and the latter took on many of Min’s attributes. However, the god maintained his own identity and his worship continued through the whole of Egypt.



Bard, Kathryn A. 2000. “The Emergence of the Egyptian State (c.3200–2686 BC)”. In The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Edited by Ian Shaw, 61–88. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

David, Rosalie. 2002. Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt. London: Penguin Books.

Hornung, Erik. 1996. Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt. The One and the Many. Translated by John Baines. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Wilkinson, Richard H. 2003. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson.

Wilkinson, Toby. 2003. Genesis of the Pharaohs. Dramatic new discoveries that rewrite the origins of ancient Egypt. London: Thames & Hudson.


Monday, 27 March 2023

From Harrogate to Swansea: A Wooden Funerary Figure from the Harrogate Collection

The blog post for this week has been written by Egypt Centre volunteer and University of Birmingham student, Sam Powell, whose visit to Harrogate Museum in July 2022 led to the loan of the collection to the Egypt Centre.

For this week’s blog post, given the exciting recent news about the Harrogate loan to the Egypt Centre, I’d like to give you an overview of the wooden funerary figure I was visiting, which sparked the beginning of the discussions to bring the Harrogate material to Swansea for study. As part of my ongoing PhD research, which attempts to catalogue all known ancient Egyptian wooden funerary figures in UK institutions, I was fortunate to visit the Mercer Art Gallery and Pump room in July 2022 to examine HARGM7673 (fig.1), acquired by Benjamin William John Kent and bequeathed to the museum in 1969. Whilst there, I chatted with the staff about future research on their ancient Egyptian collection and recommended the Egypt Centre as the ideal place for this collection to get the attention it deserves!

Fig. 1: Wooden funerary model

Wooden tomb models are found in elite burials from the end of the Old Kingdom (2350 BCE) to the late Middle Kingdom (1802 BCE). These models include scenes of food production in various guises, offering bearers, model boats, and manufacture amongst other themes. The most famous examples being the extensive collection of models found in the tomb of Meketre (TT280, Sheikh Abd el-Qurna). Meketre served as the chancellor and high steward during the reigns of Montuhotep II, Montuhotep III, and possibly also Amememhat (c. 2060–1962 BCE) and was buried with a set of twenty-four exquisite tomb models. These models are interpreted as a means of magically providing ‘sustenance’ for the deceased. My research focuses on the human figures originating from these models (which I refer to as wooden funerary figures). The aim is to use the stylistic traits of examples from a known provenance to identify the likely origins of the vast number of unprovenanced figures, which are more often than not isolated from their original models.

HARGM7673, as with many of the figures I have studied, is very unassuming at first glance; a nude female figure, with the left arm and lower portion of the left leg now lost. The arms are carved separately and attached to the torso with small dowels, whilst the legs would have been pegged into a base. Her skin is painted pale yellow, she wears a black tripartite wig, and she has large triangular eyes outlined in kohl and emphasized with a cosmetic line to the outer corner. The eyebrows are painted black and the mouth is indicated with a slit. The breasts and hips are defined, and the nipples, navel, and pubic region are highlighted with black paint (fig. 2). The staining, particularly to the reverse around the waist, suggests that the figure may have once worn a skirt of linen.


Fig. 2: Examining the funerary figure

Looking at the wear to the left side of the body, it is likely this arm was raised upwards, and the dowel holes in the top of the head are indicative of something attached to the head of the figure, likely a basket. Given these stylistic traits, the figure is very likely an offering bearer. Offering bearers are figures that can appear on individual bases, or in procession. They are typically female, although male examples do exist. They are usually carrying food and drink to magically provide sustenance for the deceased in the afterlife. Female figures such as this often carry a basket upon their heads, supported by the left arm, and sometimes hold a fowl in the right hand (this is not the case for this figure).

Turning to the origins of the figure, the skin tone, large eyes, and proportions are very similar to examples coming from the site of Beni Hasan from around the Twelfth Dynasty when production of these figures reached its zenith. I was fortunate to be allowed to visit the stores of the Harrogate collection and found a box with the old display base that belongs to the offering bearer, which states that she did indeed come from Beni Hasan, dates to the Twelfth Dynasty, and most interestingly, was part of the Kennard collection (fig. 3) before being acquired by Kent.

Fig 3: Old display bases can often reveal tantalising clues


Henry Martyn Kennard (1833–1911) owned a vast collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities, which were sold at auction between the 16th and 19th July 1912 by Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge. There are sixteen lots relating to wooden figures and tomb models within the sale, some of which can be omitted as they have already been allocated to other figures. The most likely match to the Harrogate offering bearer is lot 503, given the description and size provided are an exact match (the catalogue states the smaller of the two figures within the lot as 7 inches, which perfectly matches my measurement of 178mm (fig. 4)!

Fig. 4: Lot 503 of the 1912 sale of the Kennard collection


The lot describes an additional larger figure, which I have not yet identified. It is unclear whether Kent bought this figure from the 1912 sale directly, or if the figure passed through another collector prior to being purchased by Kent (although fig. 5 showing the listing in the Kent catalogue (fig. 5) seems to suggest it was purchased from the Kennard auction in 1912. It is also unclear what happened to the larger figure, which does not appear in the Kent catalogue—I’m still hopeful as I enter the analytical phase of my research that the other figure may emerge from my catalogue!

Fig. 5: Entry for the figure from Kent's catalogue


Those of you who have read blog posts I have previously written about the Egypt Centre figures may remember that sometimes, particularly with figures from Beni Hasan, a tomb number is painted on the back of the figure (as seen on W687). Unfortunately, this is not the case for the Harrogate figure. There are several figures within the grave register included in Garstang’s ‘Burial Customs of Ancient Egypt’, which details his excavations between 1902 and 1904, which could with more research prove to be a match.

Fig. 6: Click on the link for a 3D model of the figure (

In summary, I feel there’s enough evidence to be confident in identifying HARGM7673 as an offering bearer, in addition to describing her as from Beni Hasan, particularly the stylistic traits, which are backed up by the listings in both the Kennard auction and Kent catalogue. Hopefully, as my research continues, further clues may come to light to tell us more about this gorgeous figure—I can’t wait to see her on display in the Egypt Centre!

The Harrogate collection has only been in Swansea for a few short weeks, but already the amount of research taking place with the collection is truly astounding and will all be accessible later this year in the new online catalogue created by Abaset Collections.