Monday, 24 February 2020

The City of Akhetaten

The blog post for this week is written by Nick Mascall, an Egypt Centre volunteer with a keen interest in the Amarna Period.

In year 5 of his reign, Amenhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten and commissioned many boundary stelae to mark out the formal borders of Akhetaten, his new capital city dedicated to the Aten. These stelae define a rough square with sides of about 20 km (about 12.5 miles) straddling the Nile halfway between Luxor to the south (the traditional religious capital) and Memphis to the north (the traditional administrative capital). Akhenaten claimed that the Aten itself selected the site, which had never held a temple to any other god, or been part of a temple estate, or owned by anyone except, ultimately, the king himself. Many suspect that the deciding factor was the way the mouth of the largest wadi (valley) in the eastern cliffs behind the site framed the rising sun, and reproduced the hieroglyph akhet—the horizon, or portal, and a symbol of rebirth. This wadi would become the site of the royal tombs.

Fig. 1: Painted plaster from the North Riverside Palace (W797)

Royal tombs were one of many things Akhenaten announced that he was going to build here, including two royal residences; one for the Pharaoh, one for the “Great Royal Consort”—which raises interesting questions about the domestic arrangements of the royal family. Other buildings are given portentous but (to our eyes) ambiguous titles, and seem to include what we now call the Great and Small Aten Temples, several others which have not to date been excavated or conclusively identified, and a “Sunshade” for the Great Royal Consort Nefertiti. “Sunshades”, their nature, identity and locations, are among the most contentious topics of Amarna scholarship (which is saying a lot). Apart from the boundary stelae, all the known remains of the city and its many outlying sites are in the desert bay on the eastern bank, surrounded by a wall of cliffs and steep slopes pierced in places by wadi mouths. The known tombs (less than 30) of the city’s elite are cut into this natural barrier in two groups, north and south, and the scenes on their walls are one of the richest resources we have regarding the appearance of the city and its buildings, and the daily lives of its inhabitants.

Fig. 2: Painted plaster from the North Riverside Palace (W801)

The city itself and its major outliers are arranged in a north-south strip along or not far from the river bank, connected by the broad and mainly straight “Royal Road” (a modern name), along which the royal family and the city’s elite rode in two-horse chariots, accompanied by running escorts (fig. 3). The “Central City” contained the gigantic Great Palace (about 200 x 580 metres), the “King’s House”, the two Aten Temples, and offices, storehouses, workplaces and barracks—all government buildings, including the “House of Life” and the so-called Records Office where the tablets known as the Amarna Letters were found. It also had streets of small and medium sized houses for clerks, mid-level government officials and perhaps junior priests and temple servants. Amazingly, almost all of this housing was built, occupied and then demolished and rebuilt on a slightly different alignment. You might be forgiven for thinking that Akhenaten’s builders had too much time on their hands, but there is a small mountain of evidence to show that this was definitely not the case.

Fig. 3: Chariot scene from the tomb of Meryre

The rest of the city consists mainly of housing—many small, closely clustered houses for poor people, and some large houses in large compounds for the elite. Interestingly, if you plot house size against frequency the result is a fairly smooth slope, rather than the stairstep pattern you might expect from a rigidly hierarchical social organisation. Social mobility of a sort seems to have existed at Amarna, and several of the tomb-wall texts praise the king for being willing to promote ‘from the lowest ranks’ on the basis of ability. On the other hand, those texts are also the most concentrated outpouring of extravagant and largely formal flattery which I have ever read.

Fig. 4: Painted plaster from the North Riverside Palace (W808)

Houses also appear to be loosely organised in quasi-feudal clusters, with a large house in a large compound bordered by smaller but still prestigious houses (for upper servants and estate officials?), and then by many smaller houses for the family workforce. All are built of sun-dried mudbricks conforming more or less closely to a standard size, with some stone fittings—more in the higher-status houses. Though it may seem primitive and impermanent, mudbrick works well in the Egyptian climate to this day, is easy and cheap to make, and lends itself to very fast construction. In ancient Egypt, it was used to construct almost every kind of building, excepting high-status tombs and temples, which were built from stone because they were intended to last for all eternity. Curiously and unusually, the main ceremonial parts of the Great Palace were also built of stone, whereas the other two identified palaces at Amarna were built in mudbrick, as usual.

Fig. 5: Painted plaster from the North Riverside Palace, depicting the elbow of the Pharaoh (W02)

Regarding these two other palaces, the North Riverside Palace, lying near the northern extremity of the site, is widely thought to have been where the royal family lived day-to-day, though very little of it survived to be excavated. We have in the Egypt Centre collection a fair selection of painted plaster fragments from its decoration, some of which were brought out for the handling session (figs. 1–2, 4–5). It was a revelation to see these under better lighting, even though I’ve been looking at some of them every week for years now since they are on display in the Amarna case in the House of Life. The other known palace is the North Palace, lying between the North Riverside Palace and the city’s North Suburb (fig. 6). This modest structure (a mere 112 x 142 metres) was clearly intended for the use of a single member of the royal family, perhaps Kiya (a subsidiary royal wife) and then Meritaten, the eldest princess and future queen. As a whole, it is one of the most complete and easily readable plans we have for a New Kingdom palace.

Fig. 6: Reconstruction of the chapel T36.11 at Amarna (by Nick Mascall) 

This unavoidably brief account cannot begin to do justice to the scope, variety and richness of the site. It is not just the most complete and accessible ancient Egyptian city that survives, but because it was built, occupied, and abandoned within 15 to 20 years it is an archaeological snapshot of a New Kingdom city, far easier to interpret than most other such sites that have been overbuilt again and again over millennia. That it was also the centre of one of the most remarkable episodes in Egyptian and world history is just the icing on the cake.

Readers to this blog may be interested in supporting the Amarna Project by donating to their gofundme page, which includes the opportunity to have your name written on a block within the Great Aten Temple!

Bomann, A. H. (1991) The private chapel in ancient Egypt: a study of the chapels in the Workmen’s Village at El Amarna with special reference to Deir el Medina and other sites. Studies in Egyptology. London; New York: Kegan Paul International Ltd.
Frankfort, H. and J. D. S. Pendlebury (1933) The city of Akhenaten. Part II: The north suburb and the desert altars. The excavations at Tell el Amarna during the seasons 1926–1932. MEES 40. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Kemp, B. J. (2013) The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and Its People. London: Thames & Hudson.
Pendlebury, J. D. S. (1951) The City of Akhenaten. Part III: The Central City and the Official Quarters. The Excavations at Tell el-Amarna during the Season 1926–1927 and 1931–1936. 2 vols. ExcMem 44. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Wegner, J. (2017) The Sunshade Chapel of Meritaten from the House-of-Waenre of Akhenaten. University Museum monograph 144. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Williamson, J. (2016). Nefertiti’s sun temple: a new cult complex at Tell el-Amarna, 2 vols. Harvard Egyptological Studies 2. Leiden; Boston: Brill.

Monday, 17 February 2020

The Mysterious World of Akhenaten

The blog post for this week is written by Marlene McGairl, an Egypt Centre volunteer for over twenty years.

Amenhotep IV, son of Amenhotep III and Tiye, ruled Egypt in the Eighteenth Dynasty. He was a mysterious person known as the “Heretic”. He was strange in his activities and his appearance. Depictions of him in sculpture show him in a hideous, exaggerate style, with long, sharp features and curious feminine characteristics–large hips and bosom (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Statue of Akhenaten in Luxor Museum

In year 5, he changed his name to Akhenaten and began abolishing the cult of Amun. For political and religious reasons he gave pre-eminence to the cult and worship of the sun-disc, Aten. He founded Akhetaten, the present day Tell el-Amarna. Here, together with his wife Nefertiti and six daughters, he celebrated the cult of the Aten. A new aspect of the Aten is shown with the rays of the sun, each ending in hands which give life to the King (fig. 2). He called himself the First Prophet of Re-Horakhty. After this, he unleashed a violent offensive against most of the gods of Egypt, especially Amun, the “Hidden One”, and his associated deities. He dispatched teams of workmen to disfigure the statues of deities and to hammer out and erase every mention of the word “god” in the plural.

Fig. 2: The royal family offering to the Aten

Akhenaten was fond of his family, with the “Window of Appearance” being a common motif in which the King, Nefertiti, and sometimes their daughters show themselves to the populace and distribute gold rings to deserving favourites below. The beautiful relief in the tomb of Meryre at Amarna depicts the royal family riding in their chariots (fig. 3). Incidentally, from the time of Amenhotep III, customs decreed that only princesses were to be given prominence. It was rare to find even a mention of the prince who was to become Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten. For the moment there was only one god: “Sole Lord, taking capture of all lands every day. As one, beholding those that walk therein”.

Fig. 3: The royal family in their chariots at Amarna

The objects examined this week related to the reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhenaten. Two of them have already been highlighted in this blog and so only require a brief comment. W154 is a fragment of sandstone, originally part of a statue depicting Akhenaten carrying an offering tray. VAD29 is a turquoise blue faience ring bezel with the name of Akhenaten, which was excavated by the EES at Amarna. The earliest object (W230c) we examined contained part of the name Nebmaatre (Amenhotep III), which has a beautiful blue faience paste set within a white matrix (fig. 4). We discussed possible uses for this object, without coming to any conclusion. While it is slightly curved at the back, the curvature does not seem to suggest that it was part of a kohl tube, like other known examples. We know the object was purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1924 from the collection of Richard Bethell, who featured in week 1 of this course. However, the object can perhaps be traced further back to the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor on account of the number (1465) written on the side.

Fig. 4: Faience inlay with the cartouche of Amenhotep III (W230c)

W960 is three fragments of an amphora glued together, which have a wine docket inscribed upon them in hieratic. The inscription apparently reads as “Year 12, (sweet) wine of the house [i.e. estate] of … of the Western River, vineyard supervisor…” (fig. 5). It is likely that this object was excavated by the EES at Amarna, although it has not been linked to the find slips thus far. It is interesting that this wine was produced in year 12 of Akhenaten’s reign since we know that he celebrated his great “Durbar”. During this time, many foreign dignitaries visited Egypt, with copious amounts of wine clearly being drunk. In fact, many wine dockets dating to year 12 are known from Amarna (Wahlberg 2011).

Fig. 5: Wine docket dating to year 12 (W960)

The final object for discussion was the second of four broad collars in the collection, all of which were purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1923 from the collection of Ellinor Frances Berens. In week one of this course, we examined the first of these collars, W11. These collars were allegedly found at Amarna during the 1880s, when the royal tombs were looted by locals. W8 consists of five rows of multi-coloured beads of different types, ending at the front with hanging amulets. The forms derived from flowers (rosettes, cornflowers, lotus-seed vessels, nasturtium seeds); from the animal world (fish baboon, heart, eye); the divine (goddesses holding papyrus sceptres, Bes, and Taweret); and inanimate objects (feather, fan, drop beads, bulla-vessel). Bosse Griffiths (2001, 29) noted that the careful selection of amulets suggests strongly that the collars were destined for the burial of a girl, possibly a princess. To judge from their shape, they lie best in a half circle, as if to be lain on top of the breast of a mummy.

Fig. 6: Broad collar (W8)

Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001) ‘Bead collars with Amarna amulets in the Wellcome Collection of the University College, Swansea’. In Amarna Studies and other Selected Papers, ed. J. G. Griffiths. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 27–30.
Redford, D. B. (1984) Akhenaten: The heretic king. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Reeves, N. (2001) Akhenaten: Egypt’s false prophet. London: Thames & Hudson.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (1924) Catalogue of Egyptian, Greek, Roman & Babylonian antiquities, etc., comprising first and second day’s sale the collection of Egyptian antiquities, formed by the Hon. R. Bethell, third day’s sale the property of Captain Anthony Hamilton ..., part of the collection formed by the late Gustave Natorp, an Egyptian bronze solar boat for processional use, the collection formed by the late Joseph Offord, the property of H. Edwin, a bronze head of Athena wearing helmet, the property of Edward F. Elton and other properties; which will be sold by auction by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge ... on Monday, 15th of December, 1924, and two following days. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
Wahlberg, E.-L. (2012) The wine jars speak. A text study. MA Thesis, Uppsala. Available at:

Saturday, 8 February 2020

The Rediscovery of Amarna: Early explorers, Explosions, and Really Big Pots!

The post for this week is written by Sam Powell, an MA student of Egyptology and an Egypt Centre volunteer, who has previously contributed to this blog.

For week two of the Amarna handling class, we looked at the rediscovery of Amarna, including early visitors and the various excavations that have taken place at the site. I was fascinated to see the differing interpretations of Amarna depending on the interpreter and the assumptions made; for example, one of the earliest European explorers Claude Sicard (1677–1726) viewed the images of Akhenaten and Nefertiti on the boundary stela at Tuna el-Gebel as priests due to his religious background.

Fig. 1: Faience bead (AB70)

We had the opportunity to look at several objects this week, including a faience bead in the form of a double cartouche of Akhenaten (AB70), a flint sickle blade (W1380), some Amarna pottery (EC214 and W176c–d), and a very unusual item (W1077a) that proved to be the favourite of both classes. The faience bead was found by Petrie at Abydos in 1901–1902, with a more complete parallel in the Art Institute of Chicago (X38).

Fig. 2: Flint from a sickle blade (W1380)

W1077a, which is shaped like a giant acorn, is made of pottery. It is slightly damaged at the “stem” and is embossed with a raised pattern. My group had a lot of fun guessing the possible uses of the object (although those in the group who volunteer in the Egypt Centre already knew the answer since we have two on display in the House of Life!). The item is actually thought to be a “hand grenade” dating to the time of the Crusades (Avissar & Stern 2005, 119–121). The vessels would be filled with “Greek fire” before being utilised. At least two of these grenades were found at Amarna by the Egypt Exploration Society.

Fig. 3: Grenade (W1077a)

My favourite objects were definitely the examples of “Palace ware” or “Festival ware” (EC214 and W176c–d). We have quite a few examples of this in the Egypt Centre collection. I’ve become a fan of this particular pottery type in the last few months whilst helping in the stores and spending some time with W193. Back in September 2019, I assisted with the moving the vessel to the new store (see the blog post by Molly Osborne). I was also on site when Phil Parkes and Ashley Lingle-Meeklah from Cardiff University came to assess the vessel for potential conservation. Ashley returned last Friday (31 January) to treat the vessel before transporting it to Cardiff University’s conservation labs where it will be desalinated to remove the build-up of salt on the vessel. She made a fantastic time-lapse video of the process and will be providing us with regular updates—although seeing it dismantled does make me feel a bit ill after we carefully transported it across campus!

Fig. 4: Examining some blue-painted pottery (W176c–d)

The pieces we looked at this week were really beautiful despite their fragmentary form (some of the vessels were huge given the circumference suggested by the sherds), and the colours must have been magnificent when originally painted. The typical colours used are cobalt blue, red, and black, and typically include designs and motifs that reflect nature. This type of pottery has been suggested as being produced at royal residences, or as being made specifically for use during festivals.

Fig. 5: Blue-painted pottery from Amarna (W176c–d)

As always, I am very grateful for the opportunity to include object handling in these classes. It really helps to bring the past to life and allows you to feel connected to the time period you are studying. Thank you once again to the Egypt Centre for these fantastic sessions.

Avissar, M. and E. J. Stern (2005) Pottery of the Crusader, Ayyubid and Mamluk periods in Israel. Israel Antiquities Authority Reports 26. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.
 Hope, C. A. (1991) ‘Blue-painted and polychrome decorated pottery from Amarna’. Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne 2: 105–118.
——— (1991) ‘Blue-painted and polychrome decorated pottery from Amarna: a preliminary corpus’. Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne 2: 17–93.

Monday, 3 February 2020

The Amarna Period through the Egypt Centre Collection

This past Thursday, I started my new course entitled The Amarna Period through the Egypt Centre. The ten-week course consists of PowerPoint lectures (first hour) briefly summarising the various aspects of the Amarna Period under discussion, followed by a handling session (second hour) of five–six objects in the Egypt Centre collection (fig. 1). The Egypt Centre has over 300 items from Amarna, many of which were excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) in the 1920s and 1930s. Over the next ten weeks, this blog 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: The class admiring the bust of Nefertiti

For the first session, we had an outline of the course followed by a brief introduction to the major characters of the Amarna Period. Five objects were selected for the handling session, with the full size replica of Nefertiti’s bust being the star attraction. W1011 (fig. 2) was purchased by George Kerferd (1915–1998) sometime around 1960. At the time, Kerferd was Professor of Classics at Swansea and had started a small teaching collection for the Department (Griffiths 2000, 6). The original bust of Nefertiti was discovered on the 6th December 1912 at Amarna by the German excavation team headed by Ludwig Borchardt. Now in Berlin (ÄM 21300), the bust is perhaps the most well-known depiction of an ancient Egyptian woman. However, while it is considered an archetype of female beauty, we cannot be sure that Nefertiti actually looked like this. As with all Egyptian art, representations were idealised and stylised. It seems probable that the bust in Swansea was made from the Berlin original by the sculptor Tina Wentcher (born Ernestine Haim). She produced a number of replicas in the years following World War I and there are now many examples scattered throughout the world.

Fig. 2: Bust of Nefertiti (W1011)

Another popular object during the session was W11 (fig. 3), one of four broad collars in the Egypt Centre collection, which will all be featured over the coming weeks. These four collars were allegedly acquired by Ellinor Frances Berens (1842–1924) in the 1880s, shortly after the royal tombs at Amarna were being pillaged (Blackman 1917, 45–46). They were later purchased by Sir Henry Wellcome in 1924 (lots 66–69). However, the evidence for their having coming from the Amarna tombs remains circumstantial. Broad collars seem to have been a common feature of Egyptian dress, although it is unusual to find collars with the thread still intact. Often dealers made up collars with beads from a variety of sources and of different dates, something that possibly occurred with ours. However, the beads do seem to date to the same period, the Eighteenth Dynasty, which reinforces the idea that the thread is genuine (Bosse-Griffiths 2001). In addition, the thread is linen, which is what the ancient Egyptians used whereas modern forgers tended to use cotton. We have considered having the thread radiocarbon dated, but this would destroy a small part of it. Additionally, if the thread were found to be ancient, this still would not prove that the collars were not made up in Victorian times.

Fig. 3: Broad collar (W11)

W962 is a small fragment of a blue glazed composition throwstick, which is decorated on either side with cartouches of Akhenaten next to wadjet-eyes (fig. 4). Given that the throwstick is made out of a glazed composition (faience), it could not have been functional. Instead, it must have been symbolic or intended for the afterlife. According to Stevens (2006, 18), over twenty fragments of faience throwsticks have been found at Amarna. A complete example in the British Museum (BM EA 34213), which was apparently found by locals in the royal tomb at Amarna, suggests that the end would have had decoration showing a lotus-flower (Martin 1974, pl. 51 [301]. The overall design of the throwstick and decoration upon faience examples changed over time (Pinch 1993, 295). Amarna throwsticks have a more shallow curve than earlier ones, perhaps suggesting that they had ceased to be an object for actual hunting. W962 appears to have been part of the collection of Richard Bethell (1883–1929), which was purchased by Wellcome in 1924 (lot 373). Bethell was Howard Carter’s personal secretary, who assisted in the excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun (Bierbrier 2019, 49).

Fig. 4: Throwstick fragment (W962)

The final two objects are fragments of faience ring bezels, which were part of the EES excavations at Amarna in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1976, the EES transferred a large group of objects from their excavations, including Amarna, to the British Museum, who in turn offered some of them to Swansea in 1978. Ring bezels with cartouches were introduced by Amenhotep III and remained popular until the end of the New Kingdom (Shannon 1987; Shaw 1984). In fact, W1160q contains part of the name Nebmaatre, which is the prenomen of Amenhotep III (Fig. 5). The second bezel, W1060k, has part of the name Neferkheperure-waenre, the prenomen of Akhenaten (Fig. 6). Further searching of the EES object cards from Amarna will hopefully help identify the actual excavation numbers and findspots!

Fig. 5: Ring bezel of Amenhotep III (W1160q)
Fig. 6: Ring bezel of Akhenaten (W1160k)

Bierbrier, M. L. (2019) Who was who in Egyptology. London: The Egypt Exploration Society. 5th edition.
Blackman, A. M. (1917) ‘The Nugent and Haggard Collections of Egyptian Antiquities’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 4, 1: 39–46.
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001) ‘Bead collars with Amarna amulets in the Wellcome Collection of the University College, Swansea’. In Amarna Studies and other Selected Papers, ed. J. G. Griffiths. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 27–30.
Griffiths, J. G. (2000) ‘Museum efforts before Wellcome’. Inscriptions: The Newsletter of the Friends of the Egypt Centre, Swansea 5: 6.
Martin, G. T. (1974) The rock tombs of El-‘Amarna. Part 7: The Royal Tomb at El-‘Amarna 1, the objects Archaeological Survey of Egypt 35. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
Pinch, G. (1993) Votive offerings to Hathor. Oxford: Griffith Institute, Ashmolean Museum.
Shannon, E. (1987) ‘Bezels with royal names from the Workmen’s Village 1979–1986’. In Amarna reports IV, ed. B. J. Kemp. Egypt Exploration Society, Occasional Publications 5. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 154–159.
Shaw, I. (1984) ‘Ring bezels at el-Amarna’. In Amarna reports I, ed. B. J. Kemp. Egypt Exploration Society, Occasional Publications 1. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 124–132.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (1924) Catalogue of Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek & Roman antiquities, &c.: comprising the collection formed by H. Griebert, Esq. of Berkeley House, Finchley Road, N.W.; including Egyptian amulets, and figures in pottery, silver and bronze; Greek vases, etc.; the property of Mrs. J. Waugh; the property of Sir Henry Paul Harvey, K.C.M.G.; the Berens collection of Babylonian tablets, the property of Mrs. Randolph Berens, of 14, Princes Gardens, S.W.; a fine Græco-Roman marble head of Heracles from the collection of the late Carl Brownlow at Ashbridge, and other properties, including Roman bronze work, Peruvians and Græco-Phœnician gold ornaments, etc.; which will be sold by auction by Messrs.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge ... on Thursday, the 28th of February, 1924. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
Stevens, A. (2006) Private Religion at Amarna. BAR International Series 1587. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Monday, 27 January 2020

Provisions for the Dead in Ancient Egypt: An AIM and Pilgrim Trust Funded Conservation Project

This past week has been quite a busy one as we prepared objects to be sent to Cardiff University for conservation. In November of 2019, the Egypt Centre was informed of our successful application for an AIM (Association of Independent Museums) Conservation grant, supported by the Pilgrim Trust. Our application focused on the theme of “Provisions for the Dead in Ancient Egypt”, with objects from our “Provisions” case in the House of Life selected. This included a large group of wooden funerary figures, which have recently been reunited with their missing limbs (fig. 1). However, before the objects could be sent to Cardiff, each of them had to undergo a condition check before being carefully packed ready for delivery!

Fig. 1: W688 recently reunited with his missing leg and base

On Wednesday, the Egypt Centre was pleased to welcome Phil Parkes (Reader in Conservation at Cardiff University) and Ashley Lingle Meeklah (lead conservator on the project), who brought twenty students from Cardiff University for a handling session. After a tour of the stores, the students were divided into groups in order to adequately examine some of our objects. I decided to select objects in need of conservation treatment in order to challenge the students (fig. 2). This worked really well and it was great to hear their proposals for treating the objects. In the evening, Phil delivered an excellent lecture to the Friends of the Egypt Centre group, highlighting several of the museum’s objects that have previously been worked on at Cardiff. The following day, thirteen boxes were transported to Cardiff University for Ashley to start work on the project (fig. 3).

Fig. 2: Students examining some cartonnage

Fig. 3: Ashley with the recently delivered boxes of objects

Aside from the wooden funerary figures mentioned above and in the blog post from last week, six other objects from the Provisions case were selected. This includes two painted reliefs, both from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell sold in 1906. W1377 depicts an unidentified male figure sniffing a closed lotus blossom while seated before a large table of offerings. Red gridlines are also visible on the relief, which was set into a matrix of plaster of Paris sometime prior to its sale in 1906. Over the years, this plaster has started to deteriorate and become loose, with small flakes now trapped between the relief and the glass frame (fig. 4). The planned conservation work will consolidate the plaster, in addition to removing any specks of modern plaster located on the surface of the painted relief.

Fig. 4: Painted relief (W1377)

Two painted wooden stelae from Edfu, both dating to the Ptolemaic Period, have also been sent for conservation. W1041, which was purchased in 1922 from the collection of the Reverend William MacGregor (lot 1588), belongs to a priest of Edfu named Pasherienimhotep. The stela is decorated on two sides, with the front divided into four registers (fig. 5). The top register (lunette) on the front face depicts two recumbent jackals flanking a djed-pillar, with the winged disc of Behdet above. The second register shows the deceased on a lion bier with Anubis—flanked by Isis, Nephthys, and the Four Sons of Horus—performing the mummification. Additionally, Pasherienimhotep is shown on the far right dressed as a Sem-priest. The third register contains a long inscription requesting that the gods grant the ka of the deceased various food provisions in the afterlife. Part of this inscription is currently concealed by a layer of mud (upper left side), which will be mechanically removed as part of the conservation project. On the bottom register, two recumbent jackals flank a djed-pillar (Osiris). The back of the stela is divided into three registers: a winged disc at the top, Isis and Nephthys adoring Osiris in the centre, and tyet-symbols flanking a djed-pillar at the bottom.

Fig. 5: Stela of Pasherienimhotep (W1041)

The Egypt Centre has had strong links with the conservation department of Cardiff University, which date back to at least 1978. Over 150 objects have previously been treated at Cardiff, with a large batch transferred late last year. We are extremely grateful to the Association of Independent Museums and the Pilgrim Trust for awarding us the grant. The display case is one of our most popular exhibits, with our “food and provisions” and “survival in the afterlife” activity featuring heavily in our educational programme. Our volunteers are already looking forward to the objects returning to the Egypt Centre following the completion of the conservation work in April!

Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge (1906) Catalogue of the collection of Egyptian antiquities, formed in Egypt by R. De Rustafjaell, which will be sold by auction by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge...19th December, 1906 and two following days... London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
——— (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor collection of Egyptian antiquities. London: Davy.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Turns out you can have your goose and eat it, but only if you can cook it first!

The blog post for this week is written by Sam Powell, a Masters student of Egyptology at Swansea University and Egypt Centre volunteer.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you may have seen my post back in July 2019 about a figure from a funerary model (W687) with a likely provenance of Beni Hasan (who I’m pleased to report has since regained his missing arm!). In the last six months, my research into the figures from funerary models has continued with lots of exciting developments (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: ‘Re-arming’ the funerary models

My MA thesis focuses on the Egypt Centre’s collection of figures from funerary models, and, with the Egypt Centre’s help, I have been trying to gather as much information about the figures as possible in order to try and figure out where and when they were made. We have made good efforts in reuniting several missing limbs with figures (fifteen arms, two feet, and one leg to be exact!). Thanks to a grant from AIM, the figures in question will be receiving conservation treatment at Cardiff University over the next few months, which will include reattaching missing limbs. Clues such as information on the Wellcome slips, old photographs in the object files, and examination in-person were all vital in this process.
Fig. 2: The squatting scribes

I have grouped together a series of five figures (fig. 2), which have thus far been referred to as the “squatting scribes”—a nickname I had given them due to their closely cropped hair and the left hand with a hole for holding what I assumed was a reed pen. Last week, as I was scrolling through images online, I spotted an image of a funerary model of a man roasting a goose on a brazier (fig. 3). I remembered seeing a “weird oar” (W699) in the box in the Egypt Centre stores containing arms and oars (and other “accessories”) from tomb models (fig. 4). Could the oar actually be a goose on a spit? Sure enough, the scale and type of wood seem to match our “squatting scribe” figures; who now may need to be renamed!!! We still can’t quite figure out why there’s a hole through the goose—any suggestions gratefully received. Ken used this object for “guess the object” on his Twitter feed.

Fig. 3: Figure now in Cairo Museum (CCG 245)

Fig. 4: “Weird oar” (W699), now thought to be a roasting goose.

Their Wellcome slips number from 114173 through to 114176. Whilst moving paperwork to the new archive room, Ken found a list of objects in case 6772 (fig. 5), which was likely made by David Dixon during his reorganisation of the Egyptian material in the Wellcome Institute during the early 1960s. This list also shows that 114172 was checked off as having arrived in our collection, thus meaning we now had five slips describing “figure of artisan”, all coming from the 1928 Sotheby’s sale of the Tabor Collection. These slips had been highlighted in my notes as not seeming to match the figures, in particular, the dimensions seemed out. Ken and I concluded that perhaps these sizes may have included bases on which the figures sat.

Fig. 5: List of figures in Case 6772 (126), Egypt Centre archive

Identifying bases for these figures can be really tricky; they’re often made of scrap wood, or reused material such as coffins, but we have several likely candidates in the stores that seem to fit the bill. With help from a measuring tape, we’ve managed to rejig the slips to correlate with the figures. Through the process of elimination, the elusive 114172 flimsy slip in all likelihood belongs to W446.

Fig. 6: Matching bases to figures with the help of the flimsy slips

Slip 114172 has a slightly different description than the other figures, being described as a “figure squatting before ? a milling stone”, which puzzled us slightly—was the millstone still there when the object was acquired? Does that mean the figure had a base to attach the millstone to? As we went through the “accessories” box, I noticed W697 and once again an image from trawling complete examples of funerary models popped into my head—this time of a figure in front of a brazier. The object was the right size and shape to be a brazier, and the texture of gesso on the top to represent the coals. It also has a peg in the bottom to secure it to a base—could the Wellcome cataloguer have mistaken a millstone for a brazier if the goose wasn’t in situ? Ken kindly, with his photography wizardry, managed to capture the reassembled scene (fig. 6)—figure (W446), an arm previously assigned to another figure (but which fits much better with this one), the goose (W699), and brazier (W697). We measured the scene as approximately matching the sizes stated on the flimsy slip (9" x 9 ½" x 4").

Fig. 7: The composite image of W446 roasting a goose

Although we can’t say for definite that these items go together (I need to continue researching to find more parallels), they do make a very sweet scene. I just hope we find the base!

Borchardt, L. (1911) Statuen und Statuetten von Königen und Privatleuten I. Catalogue général des antiquités égyptiennes du Musée du Caire. Berlin: Reichsdruckerei.
Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge (1922) Catalogue of the MacGregor Collection of Egyptian Antiquities. London: Davy.
——— (1928) Catalogue of antiquities, etc., comprising the collection of Prehistoric implements, the property of Miss Carey, Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, etc., comprising the collection of the late C.J. Tabor, the property of Princess Ghika, the property of Mrs O. Gregory, the property of Mrs A. Belcher, the property of Mrs de Burley Wood, the property of W. Kennett, and other properties, including Indian and South American objects; which will be sold by auction by Sotheby and Co. ... on Monday, the 12th of November, 1928, and following day. London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge.
Tooley, A. M. J., 1989. Middle Kingdom burial customs. a study of wooden models and related materials. Unpublished thesis (PhD), University of Liverpool.

Monday, 13 January 2020

A Brief Review of 2019

This week marks the first anniversary of the Egypt Centre collection blog, and so it seems appropriate to present a brief review of 2019. During this time, there have been many highlights, with just a few singled out here. It was on the 7th January last year that I officially started my position of Collections Manager at the Egypt Centre. Having the opportunity to rummage through the stores is a dream for any Egyptologist. Additionally, discovering more about the history of the collection, including individual objects, is rewarding. Even photographing and editing images, while time consuming and monotonous, is immensely satisfying (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Selection of “Classical” objects recently photographed

Upon starting my job at the Egypt Centre, I decided to create this blog in order to present the collection to a wider audience. Fifty-two entries have been posted, many of which have been written by guests. The blog has proved very popular, with 22,248 views as of midday today! In particular, the weekly posts by students on the History of Egypt through the Egypt Centre were well received. I am grateful to all those who have contributed over the course of the year. The most popular entry was News from Luxor, which presented the reconstruction of a Middle Kingdom stela (fig. 2). Not surprisingly, those on Akhenaten and the Amarna Period were also popular. Twitter users can now follow me under the handle @DrKenGriffin, where I’ll be posting daily tweets on the Egypt Centre collection. Thanks to all those who have followed this blog, including leaving comments, and I hope you will continue to enjoy it!

Fig. 2: Reconstructed Middle Kingdom stela (EC1848)

In May, the Egypt Centre organised a successful conference, which saw sixteen speakers present research on objects in the collection. Some of the objects presented have featured in blog posts over the year, including the Old Kingdom lintel of Tjenti (W491), an unusual whistle (W247), and a model scribal palette (EC2018) of Djehutiemhat (fig. 3). The conference was held as part of the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the Egypt Centre, although we have now decided to make this an annual event. The second conference will take place over the weekend of the 23–24 May, with details to follow shortly!

Palette depicting Djehutiemhat (EC2018)

At the beginning of August, work on our new store was finally completed. Over the past five months we have moved almost 4,000 objects, finding a few surprises along the way. These two Soter shrouds (fig. 4) were found between old display panels after we had cleared one of our stores. The one on the right (EC4971) is illustrated on plate XXI of the 1906 Robert de Rustafjaell sale catalogue. Neither object appears to have been registered previously, although it is possible that we will come across some documentation in our archives. Speaking of, one of our old stores will now become our archive and research room. Work on organising both the store and archive room will continue throughout 2020. 

Fig. 4: Two new Soter shrouds (not to scale) 

Unfortunately, some very sad news reached us last Monday when were heard that Sybil Crouch had passed away. Sybil was a Labour councillor for the Castle ward, was head of cultural services where she managed the Taliesin Arts Centre, and was also a former chairwoman of the Arts Council for Wales. Sybil had been instrumental in setting up the Egypt Centre, helping to secure Heritage Lottery Funding and European Regional Development Funding. Following her retirement last year, we were invited to Mansion House to celebrate with her (fig. 5), which included staff from the Taliesin and Egypt Centre putting on a “Spectacular” performance of the can-can! We are all very grateful for the support Sybil offered over the years and our heartfelt condolences go out to all her family and friends.

Fig. 5: Celebrating Sybil’s retirement at Mansion House (© Swansea Life Magazine)