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Monday, 30 January 2023

The Gods Case

September 2023 will represent twenty-five years since the Egypt Centre opened to the public. To mark this occasion, we will be celebrating throughout the year with a variety of events. Additionally, this represents the 200th entry posted on this blog. This also provides the ideal opportunity to present the objects on display, case by case, within the museum. This blog post will thus kick things off by presenting the “Gods” case in the House of Death gallery. This case is the first one that visitors encounter when entering the gallery. Before examining the objects, it is important to note that the displays in the House of Death gallery have remained almost the same since the museum opened in 1998. One of our long-term plans is to completely refurbish this gallery in the coming years. Additionally, some of these objects have recently been 3D scanned and are now available on our Sketchfab page.

The Gods case (fig. 1) contains twenty-one objects, ranging from copper alloy statues to a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure. Four of these objects have been on loan from the British Museum since 2005 as part of the British Museum Partnership programme, which loans objects to regional museums (Goodridge & Williams 2005). This consists of copper alloy statues of Ptah (EA11037), Sekhmet (EA64536), and Imhotep (EA27357). Additionally, a faience striding statue of Thoth (EA63796) is located in this case.

Fig. 1: The Gods Case


In the upper left-hand corner of the case are two copper alloy statues, which have been on long-term loan to the collection since 1983. W1374 is a seated figure of Isis nursing her young son Harpakhered (Harpocrates), whose name means “Horus the Child”. Next to this is W1375, a striding figure of Harpakhered with his finger to his mouth. He wears the double crown and has a sidelock of youth (fig. 2). On the same shelf are two heads. W217 is made of steatite and shows a goddess wearing a modius platform surrounded by uraei, which supports the so-called Hathoric crown of the solar-disk between cow horns. This head likely represents the goddess Isis and may also have originally depicted her nursing her son, as with W1374. ABhttps://egyptcentre.abasetcollections.com/Objects/Details/209423 is a faience head surmounted by a shrine containing an uraeus, which originally formed part of a sistrum. It was donated to the collection in 1997 from Aberystwyth University and is said to be from Abydos.

Fig. 2: Statue of Harpakhered

 

In front of them, on the bottom of the case, are several statues of Osiris, the husband of Isis and father of Horus. The two largely-complete statues of Osiris were purchased by Wellcome in 1906 from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell. W85 is a standing figure of Osiris on a plinth. He is presented mummiform with his arms crossed to hold the crook and flail. While this statue looks quite plain, a close examination of the facial region shows that the eyes, eyebrows, and chin straps were originally inlaid. The double ostrich feathers that originally flanked the White Crown to form the Atef Crown are now missing (fig. 3). The front of the plinth is inscribed in two lines of hieroglyphs, which includes the name of an official called Ankhkhonsu. W102 is a seated figure of Osiris, who is also shown wearing the Atef Crown and holding the crook and flail. These votives represent some of the most common types of copper alloy statues dating between the Late Period and the Ptolemaic Period. Two heads of Osiris are located next to these statues. EC631 is made of copper alloy and shows the head of Osiris wearing the Atef Crown, the two ostrich feather attachments now missing, while W228b is made of stone and also depicts the god wearing the Atef Crown. The latter head was part of the 1906 Rustafjaell collection.

Fig. 3: Statue of Osiris


Next to the statues of Osiris are three further copper alloy figures. Two represent the god Amun(-Re) while the other depicts Nefertum. Both figures of Amun were donated to the collection by Aberystwyth University in 1997. AB106 is a striding figure, the lower left leg now missing. The god’s beard is nicely plaited, while the double plumes of his headdress are also missing (fig. 4). AB127 is more complete, although the details are not as fine as in the previous example. Likewise, Amun is depicted striding with hands by his side. The double plumes worn by this deity have not survived. The copper alloy statue of Nefertum (EC249) was gifted to the collection in 1978 from the British Museum as part of the dispersal of the residual material from excavations undertaken by the Egypt Exploration Society. This figure is now heavily damaged, with one of the legs and arms now missing. The deity is shown wearing a lotus blossom on his head. A suspension loop is located directly behind the head of Nefertum, which indicates that it may have been worn for amuletic purposes.

Fig. 4: Statue of Amun


Nefertum is also present with his mother, Sekhmet, on a faience dyad statue on display in the Gods case. W1163 was purchased by Wellcome in 1924 from the collection of Colonel John Evans (1828–1903). Despite damage to the front, including the head of Sekhmet now missing, the rear of the statue is particularly well preserved. It is decorated with five columns of hieroglyphs requesting good wishes from the gods (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Statue of Sekhmet and Nefertum


Directly in front of this statue is a red wooden figure of a hippopotamus-headed male deity (W458). Such figures are rare, and it likely represents the god Seth (fig. 6). Both of his arms are now missing, although the Wellcome records suggest that the upper part of his left arm was present when catalogued in 1925. It was previously catalogued by Boscawen in December 1911 as part of a group of “ivory & other objects” in Wellcome’s collection. Unfortunately, there are no further details to help trace the origins of this figure.

Fig. 6: Statue of Seth


Two other wooden objects are present in the Gods case. W832 is a recumbent figure of the jackal deity Anubis, which would have once been located atop a Late Period coffin or canopic chest. It is painted black, except for a red mouth and red collar around his neck. On the far right of the case is a tall Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure (W2001C), which was presented to the collection in 1983 by the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff (fig. 7). It had previously been gifted to the National Museum in 1924 by Henry Bruce, 2nd Baron Aberdare (1851–1929), although it can be traced back to the 1907 Rustafjaell sale where it is shown in plate VIII of the auction catalogue. Stylistically, this figure comes from Akhmim, one of the known sources of many of Rustafjaell’s objects. On top of the plinth of the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure is a Sokar hawk (W2005C), which is not part of the original figure but was also part of the Lord Aberdare collection.

Fig. 7: Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figure


The final object in this case is W2051a, which is one of the most intriguing artefacts in the museum. It is a female figure of a goddess, whose headdress is now missing. She has yellow (gold) skin, a green dress, and blue (lapis lazuli) hair. Yet the most remarkable thing about the object is that she is made entirely out of linen, which is covered in a layer of painted gesso (fig. 8). This object was previously published by Kate Bosse-Griffiths (2001, 184–187), who claimed that it has been found inside a Ptah-Sokar-Osiris “coffin” in the collection (W2051). This was supported by the fact that both objects were broken just below the knee, although recent research on both items has shown that the female figure was purchased by Wellcome in 1931 whereas the Ptah-Sokar-Osiris panel was purchased during the 1907 Rustafjaell sale. The female figure likely represents either Isis or Nephthys, although I’m unaware of any parallels of goddesses like this made entirely of linen. If any readers of this blog are aware of any, I would love to know!

Fig/ 8: Figure of a goddess


Bibliography:

Bosse-Griffiths, Kate 2001. Problems with Ptaḥ-Sokar-Osiris figures: presented to the 4th International Congress of Egyptology, Munich, 1985. In Bosse-Griffiths, Kate, Amarna studies and other selected papers, 181–188. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Goodridge, Wendy R. & Stuart J. Williams 2005. Offerings from The British Museum. Swansea: The Egypt Centre.

 

Monday, 23 January 2023

A New Kingdom Painted Vessel Imitating Stone

The blog post for this week has been written by Jess Evans, a second year Undergraduate student at Swansea University, studying a BA in Egyptology and Classical Civilisation. This semester Jess has discovered a love for archaeology (which she had never tried before!), through both her module “Introduction to Egyptian Archaeology” (CLE214), taught by Dr Christian Knoblauch, and the SUPP project.

This past semester, I was lucky enough to be involved with the Swansea University Pottery Project (SUPP), organised by Dr Christian Knoblauch and Dr Ken Griffin. The SUPP is a long-term project organized by the Egypt Centre, staff, and students at the School of Heritage, History, and Classics and the research group for Object and Landscape Centred Approaches to the Past (OLCAP). It aims to provide complete, up-to-date information on the Egypt Centre’s extensive pottery collection, which forms around a fifth of the total collection. This information will be recorded on the Egypt Centre’s online collection platform Abaset to be available for research, as well as to the general public for anyone that is curious about their collection.

As a student of the Department of Classics, Ancient History, and Egyptology working on this project, I have had the incredible opportunity to engage with some of the Egypt Centre’s pottery face-to-face and help update and contribute to their catalogue information on Abaset. One particular vessel that I and my fellow student Molly have encountered is a very interesting New Kingdom painted pottery dummy vessel. The carries the inventory number W1291 and is decorated with red and yellow varnish on top of a coat of a white layer, appearing to imitate breccia stone (fig. 1). It is 154mm high and 117mm wide. In 1906 it was purchased by Wellcome from the collection of Robert de Rustafjaell and is now on long-term loan to the Egypt Centre.


Fig. 1: Pottery vessel W1291 from the Egypt Centre


The collection also contains another dummy vessel (EC4010), which seems to imitate glass (fig. 2). This one is 96mm high and 80mm wide. Like W1291, this vessel was also purchased by Wellcome. It came from the Frankland Hood Collection, most of which originate from Thebes. The object’s sales catalogue suggests that the vessel may be from the New Kingdom, which would fit with the popularity of dummy vessels during this period in funerary contexts.


Fig. 2: Pottery vessel EC4010 from the Egypt Centre

 

The reason for the creation of this kind of object is still largely a mystery; why create pottery vessels that imitate those made of stone when one can simply possess the original object? Likely the first conclusion that comes to mind is that vessels made of pottery were easier to produce and obtain, so may have acted as cheaper versions of popular funerary objects. This would be understandable if the objects were found almost exclusively in the tombs of the lower classes, but many of these vessels were found in those of the New Kingdom elite, such as KV 46, belonging to the parents of Queen Tiye (Yuya and Thuya). Their tomb possessed twenty-seven dummy vessels – of three forms – some made of wood and some of terracotta, all painted to imitate different materials (fig. 3).


Fig. 3: Dummy vessels from the tomb of Yuya and Thuya

 

The vessels are of a similar style to the dummy vessels found in KV 46. This form was typical for stone vessels of the New Kingdom (Aston 1994, 154). The original report on the KV 46 tomb findings provides a description of these objects. One was reportedly “painted white and varnished, the varnish having turned a bright brown” (Davis 1907, 32), a description that sounds similar to W1291 (fig. 4). If the vessel is of the same style as this one, its original rim (now missing) would have resembled that of the drawing provided in the tomb findings, along with EC4010’s rim. There were also four vessels that imitate “blue” and “blue-green” (see Davis, p. 32) glass, as EC4010 does. The similarities between these vessels suggest that the Egypt Centre vessels likely have a similar date and context to these ones! There were also other pottery and wooden vessels of the same form painted to resemble alabaster. Two other forms of dummy vessels were found in the tomb, one type painted to imitate alabaster and blue or dark blue glass, and the other black and white diorite and red and white breccia.


Fig. 4: Dummy vessel from the tomb of Yuya and Thuya

 

Further examples of New Kingdom dummy vessels have been found in a variety of other contexts, such as a set of four limestone vessels from the tomb of Huy, at the Dra Abu el-Naga necropolis (TT 14). He was a contemporary of Amenhotep III (1390–1352 BCE) and may have been the “Sculptor of Amun”. These objects are a different style of dummy vessel; rather than replicating stone, they were made of stone but had no hollow interior, which would have reduced the amount of time and expense required to produce them. The Huy set all have elaborately decorated lids, depicting the head of Bes, an ox head, a frog and a calf. A fragment of another dummy vessel made from solid stone is in the Garstang Museum collection (E.586). The broken piece is made of limestone and inscribed with two vertical lines of hieroglyphs, declaring it to be the property of “The Overseer of the Fields of Amun, the Osiris, Nebseny” (fig. 5). This was an important title in the Eighteenth Dynasty and was associated with the Karnak temple.


Fig. 5: Illustration of how the Garstang Museum fragment would have fitted into the complete original vessel (© Garstang Museum)

 

The Metropolitan Museum of art also has four solid limestone dummy vessels that, like the Huy set, resemble the shapes of the Yuya and Thuya objects. They originate from KV 42 and are inscribed with the names of the Royal Nurse Senetnay and her husband Sennefer. All of them date to the reign of Amenhotep II (fig. 6).


Fig. 6: The Metropolitan Museum of Art vessels. Image from this catalogue entry

 

The Michael C. Carlos Museum has a dummy vessel (2006.047.003) made from wood and painted to resemble serpentine (fig. 7). According to the museum catalogue entry, it dates to the late Eighteenth Dynasty, but the context of discovery seems to be unknown. However, it may fit the trend of belonging to the Theban elite of this time. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art also has a dummy vessel of ceramic, which is painted to imitate another material (fig. 8). However, the catalogue entry does not indicate what that material might be. It appears to be in especially good condition and measures 308mm high. This one is also recorded as dating to the New Kingdom.


Fig. 7: Vessel imitating serpentine from the Michael C. Carlos Museum

Fig. 8: Vessel imitating stone from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art


In this blog post I have attempted to collate some of the known examples of dummy vessels. This topic is a very intriguing one with many unanswered questions. Perhaps the main one surrounding the purpose of these vessels. Why would the Theban elite go to the trouble of creating vessels designed to resemble popular forms and styles when they could afford the real thing? Another mystery is why the creation of these vessels appears to be limited only to the New Kingdom.

 

I am extremely grateful to have worked on the SUPP project this past semester and to have had the luck to encounter vessel W1291. I would also like to extend my thanks to Dr Christian Knoblauch and Dr Ken Griffin for the opportunity to write this blog post and discover more about these fascinating objects!

 

Bibliography:

Aston, Barbara G. 1994. Ancient Egyptian stone vessels: materials and forms. Studien zur Archäologie und Geschichte Altägyptens 5. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag.

Davis, Theodore M. (ed.) 1907. The tomb of Iouiya and Touiyou. Theodore M. Davis’ excavations: Bibân el Molûk. London: Constable.

Hayes, William C. 1959. The scepter of Egypt: a background for the study of the Egyptian antiquities in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Part 2, the Hyksos Period and the New Kingdom (1675–1080 B.C.) New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Monday, 16 January 2023

Three Decorated Ptolemaic Sarcophagus Fragments

Last week’s blog post discussed some Osiris figures in the Egypt Centre collection, drawing on parallels recently seen in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The blog post for this week also draws on a parallel in the Vienna museum when discussing three wooden sarcophagus fragments in Swansea, which likely date to the Ptolemaic Period. The three fragments of thick wood were purchased by Harry Stow, an agent of Sir Henry Wellcome, for £6 from Glendining and Co., an auction house in 1932. The auction catalogue describes lot 37 as “three massive pieces of ancient Egyptian wood sarcophagus case, carved in hieroglyphs.” Stickers with the number 518 found on the fragments made it possible to trace them back to the collection of Henry Martyn Kennard (1833–1911), whose collection was sold in 1912. The auction catalogue describes this lot as “two ends and a corner post from a large wooden sarcophagus; carved with incised figures of gods, inscriptions, etc.” Unfortunately, it is not possible at present to trace the history of the objects back further. However, Kennard is known to have supported the excavations of Petrie and Garstang, in addition to that of the Egypt Exploration Fund (now Society).

EC357 is the most complete of the three fragments, with a width of 500mm, height of 275m, and 89mm thick (fig. 1). As noted in the Kennard catalogue, this represents the end fragment of a large wooden sarcophagus. Only the exterior face is decorated, with the central scene being carved at a slightly lower level than the border strips above and below. The upper strip is decorated with incised hieroglyphs, with both the hieroglyphs and figures below being crudely carved. Additionally, the line below the hieroglyphs in the upper strip is unfinished, while the lower strip is completely void of any decoration. In the upper strip, the centre of the inscription contains a sun-disk flanked by uraei, with parallel texts reading away from it. They read ḏd mdw hꜣ wsi͗r i͗mn pꜣ-di͗-wsi͗r, “Words spoken: Hail the Osiris, ‘He who Hides’, Petosiris. While the final hieroglyphs of the name are partially lost, they are fully preserved on EC356, to be discussed below. The title i͗mn, meaning “He who Hides” or “The Hidden One”, is rarely attested and seems to have been mainly associated with the sixth Lower Egyptian nome. This priestly title is attested from the Late Period onwards (Klotz 2014, 731–2).

Fig. 1: Coffin end 1

 

The central scene of EC357 is decorated with an image of Isis (on the right) and Nephthys (on the left) flanking the so-called fetish of Abydos, the sacred emblem of Osiris. Behind Nephthys are Atum and his female counterpart Atumet, who wield knives. On the opposite side, behind Isis, are the deities Sobeq and Sobeqet, who are also shown holding knives. While Atum is, of course, well-attested, the other three are not. This is particularly the case with the pair of Sebeq and Sebeqet (LGG VI, 256–7). These four deities are commonly represented with Isis and Nephthys flanking the fetish of Abydos, as is the case with EC357. This includes the coffins of Wenenefer (Cairo CG 29310), Horemheb (Cairo TR 22/1/21/3), and Panehemisis (Kunsthistorisches Museum 4). Additionally, in pBrooklyn 47.218.138, which contains a series of spells for the protection of the king against poisonous snakes, scorpions, and spiders, these four deities are referred to as “the four Akh-spirits who keep watch over the majesty of Osiris” (Goyon 2012, 17).

Fig. 2: Coffin of Panehemisis


Since the wonderful publication of the coffin of Panehemisis (fig. 2) by Leitz (2011), I have been keen to visit Vienna to see it for myself. In particular, the see the parallel scene found on the sarcophagus fragment in the Egypt Centre collection. The coffin of Panehemisis, a priest of Amun-Re of Shena, was found in the necropolis of Saqqara. Notable for its excellent state of preservation as well as the high quality of its reliefs, it is made of basalt and is over two meters long. The inside of the coffin remained uninscribed, but the lid and the trough of the coffin in particular are decorated with an exceptionally large number of inscriptions and depictions. The scene in question is located on the underside of the coffin trough, where the head of the deceased would have been placed (fig. 3). Therefore, we can probably assume that EC357 represented the head panel of the sarcophagus. The elaborate depiction of the deities flanking the fetish of Abydos on the coffin of Panehemisis is accompanied by labels emphasising their role in protecting Osiris (Leitz 2011, 329–35).  

Fig. 3: Detail of the coffin of Panehemisis

 

If EC357 was located at the head end, then EC356 would have been at the foot end. EC356 is designed in a similar manner to EC357 with the central panel carved lower that the two border strips above and below. The upper strip contains the same inscription attested on EC357, with only the left side fully finished. The scene in the central panel is also unfinished, although the traces of decoration preserved indicate that it was intended to depict a djed-pillar flanked by two recumbent jackal figures (Anubis) atop shrines. Both jackals are also shown holding sceptres in their front paws (fig. 4).  

Fig. 4: Coffin end 2


The third fragment is EC434, which represents the corner post of the sarcophagus (fig. 5). The two exterior faces are decorated with hieroglyphs. On the first, a rearing cobra wearing the Red Crown is depicted atop a bundle of papyrus. The beginning of the column of hieroglyphs behind this figure is damaged, but it does at least contain the partial name of the deceased’s mother. Since there is no space above for both the names of Petosiris and his father, it is likely that this column continued on from one of the horizontal inscriptions found on EC356 or EC357. Following the name of the mother, the phrase “I am Nephthys” is written, which must be associated with the uraeus in front of it. This would suggest that each of the four corner posts contained a protective uraeus representing the tutelary goddesses Isis, Nephthys, Selket, and Neith. On the other face of the post, two columns of hieroglyphs are included, with traces of a horizontal inscription above. Once again, the name of the mother is preserved, which can tentatively be read as nb-ꜣḫt, Nebakhet (PN I, 183: 03).

Fig. 5: Corner post


Further research is needed on these fragments in order to fully understand them. It is hoped that this blog post will lead to more pieces of the sarcophagus being identified in other museum collections.   

 

Bibliography:

Goyon, Jean-Claude 2012. Le recueil de prophylaxie contre les agressions des animaux venimeux du Musée de Brooklyn: papyrus Wilbour 47.218.138. Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion 5. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. 

Klotz, David 2014. Regionally specific sacerdotal titles in Late Period Egypt: soubassements vs. private monuments. In Rickert, Alexa and Bettina Ventker (eds), Altägyptische Enzyklopädien. Die Soubassements in den Tempeln der griechisch-römischen Zeit: Soubassementstudien I 2, 717–792. Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion 7. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Leitz, Christian 2011. Der Sarg des Panehemisis in Wien. Zeichnungen von Victoria Altmann. Mit einer detaillierten Bilddokumentation der Särge des Panehemisis und Horemhab auf DVD. Studien zur spätägyptischen Religion 3 ([1]). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Monday, 9 January 2023

Two Curious Wooden Osiris Figures

Of the many objects housed in the Egypt Centre store, two crudely carved figures of Osiris have intrigued me for some time. W538 and W539 both formed part of lot 469, which was purchased for Sir Henry Wellcome at J. C. Stevens auction house (14–15 July 1931). The lot is described in the auction catalogue as “two wood Osiride figures, 5in. high; 4 terra-cotta groups (1 an equestrian figure) Romano-Egyptian, and a limestone group, in pieces.”

Fig. 1: Wooden Osiris figure (W538)


W538 (fig. 1) is a standing wooden mummiform Osiris figure wearing the Atef-crown. The figure stands in front of an obelisk, both supported on a thick plinth. The back of the obelisk has been hollowed out to create a rectangular niche. The innermost surface of this niche is crudely executed, with deep chisel gauges remaining. W539 (fig. 2) is a seated wooden mummiform Osiris figure wearing the Atef-crown. His seat is depicted as a rough cube with a short plinth for his feet, but any backrest intended has not been delineated from the body of the god. Though the wood is roughly carved into shape, the remains of gesso indicate a more finished surface. A wooden peg remains through the centre of the chest but appears to correspond to a knot in the wood, making it a plug rather than a functional element. Likewise, the back of the figure has been hollowed out to create a rectangular niche. They both measure just over 150mm in height.

Fig. 2: Wooden Osiris figure (W539)


While statues of Osiris are some of the most commonly attested figures of deities during the First Millennium BC, these usually come in the form of copper alloy votives. Wooden figures of Osiris are, of course, known, particularly Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures. Although Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures do often have a cavity in the back, just like the two statues in the Egypt Centre, their iconography is very different. Since I had never seen direct parallels to the Swansea figures, I often wondered whether they were Victorian fakes, perhaps intended to resemble Ptah-Sokar-Osiris figures; it was certainly not unusual for Wellcome to purchase fakes at auction! Therefore, I was very excited to see close parallels on display in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, which I visited in December (figs. 3–4). They are of a similar size, depict Osiris seated with an obelisk behind, and each has a cavity in the rear. One of the figures in Vienna (ÄS 951a–b) even has its back panel preserved, which contains an illustration of Osiris. ÄS 955 contained a small statuette of Isis nursing the infant Horus while ÄS 956 contained an elongated mummified mass. The accompanying label notes that in at least one case—although it is unclear if referring to an example in Vienna—a mummified foetus was discovered! These figures have been dated to the Late Period to Ptolemaic Period (c. 664–30 BC).

Fig. 3: Osiris figures in Vienna

Fig. 4: Osiris figures in Vienna


One thing that is clear about the figures in Vienna is that they are all gilded. While those in Swansea are not, I was keen to return to the Egypt Centre in the New Year to take a closer look at our figures and to check if there were any traces of gilding. I was therefore quite excited on Wednesday last week when I was able to spot traces on both figures, particularly on the legs of W539 (fig. 5)! One of the distinguishing features of this type of object seems to be the presence of an obelisk behind the figure of Osiris. Small obelisks were commonly used in the cult of the dead in connection with Osiris. In particular, obelisks were depicted behind certain figures of the god Osiris in the tombs.

Fig. 5: Traces of gilding on W539


What were these figures used for and where might they have been deposited? Following my visit to Vienna, I came across another figure in Bolton (1972.36.A). While this figure is now badly preserved (fig. 6), it does have a provenance. It was excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society at the Sacred Animal Necropolis sometime between 1964–1973. This object was a surface find from the Old Kingdom necropolis (Martin 1981, 107 [nr. 1541]). Other similar figures were discovered within the structures associated with the Sacred Animal Necropolis, including one within block 3. This object is described as being a “seated wooden statuette of Osiris, wearing the White Crown flanked by ostrich feathers. Worn and damaged. The column or pedestal behind is hollowed out to receive a mummy or amulet” (Martin 1981, 30 [nr. 322]). Another, found in the dump to the west of sector 7, is described as a “wooden statuette of Osiris. Back hollowed out, and containing a mummified package.” (Martin 1981, 103 [1407]). Unfortunately, the publication does not note what this mummified package contained.

Fig. 6: Osiris figure in Bolton (1972.36.A)


Knowing that several of these figures originated from the Sacred Animal Necropolis, I decided to look through the EES archival photos, which are available on their Flicker site. I was amazed to see several photos of a similar Osiris statue, which was discovered within a wooden shrine (figs. 7–9). This object and its contents are now in the Cairo Museum (JdE 91108). It was published by Hastings (1997, 27–28 [nr. 88]), who wrote on the sculpture from the Sacred Animal Necropolis. Given how unique this find appears to be, I include here the detailed description provided by Hastings for the statue of Osiris (JdE 91108a):

Fig. 7: EES archival photo of the shrine (SAQ-SAN.SLI.VO.010)


“This curious statue was found wrapped in linen and occupying the left wall of the wooden shrine which also contained a seated figure of Isis suckling Harpocrates, and a miniature faience figurine of the same subject, together with two bronze figures of Harpocrates. The shrine lay in drift-sand a few centimetres above the foundation of the north enclosure wall of the temple.”

Fig. 8: EES archival photo showing the figures found in the shrine (SAQ-SAN.SLI.VO.077)


“It is made in three separate parts: the figure of Osiris, and also the truncated obelisk before which he stands, are carved from two different pieces of wood and slot into grooves in the large rectangular base. Osiris wears a foreshortened version of the atef-crown with uraeus; his right hand is held above the left, and there are no attributes. The eyebrows and rims of the eyes are inlaid with blue glass, the pupils of the eyes are black with white paste surrounds. The statue and obelisk were overlaid with gesso and gilded, but there are no traces of gilding on the base.”

Fig. 9: EES archival photo showing Osiris within the shrine (SAQ-SAN.SLI.VO.011)


This find from the Sacred Animal Necropolis is quite remarkable, particularly as it was found as part of an assemblage. The question remains as to whether any of the other Osiris figures like the ones discussed here were originally deposited in a similar way. Additionally, are they specific to Saqqara or have they been found at other sites? If any readers of this blog know of further examples or research on these figures, I would love to hear!


Postscript

Following the publication of this blog, I was made aware of the detailed article by Musso & Petacchi cited in the bibliography. See also the article by Satzinger.


Bibliography:

Emery, Walter Bryan 1967. Preliminary report on the excavations at North, Saqqara 1966–7, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 53, 141–145.

Green, Christine Insley 1987. The temple furniture from the Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara 1964–1976. Egypt Exploration Society, Excavation Memoir 53. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Hastings, Elizabeth Anne 1997. The sculpture from the Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara. 1964–76. Egypt Exploration Society, Excavation Memoir 61. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Martin, Geoffrey Thorndike. 1981. The Sacred Animal Necropolis at North Saqqara. The southern dependencies of the main temple complex. Egypt Exploration Society, Excavation Memoir 50. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Musso, Simone and Simone Petacchi 2017. The Osirian obelisk-shaped "reliquaries": new evidence from European collections. In Kóthay, Katalin Anna (ed.), Burial and mortuary practices in Late Period and Graeco-Roman Egypt: proceedings of the international conference held at Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, 17–19 July 2014, 337–345. Budapest: Museum of Fine Arts.

Satzinger, Helmut 1998. Osirianische Obelisken in der Wiener Sammlung. In Clarysse, Willy, Antoon Schoors, and Harco Willems (eds), Egyptian religion: the last thousand years. Studies dedicated to the memory of Jan Quaegebeur: part I, 413–423. Leuven: Peeters.

Smith, Harry S. 1974. A visit to Egypt. Life at Memphis & Saqqara (c. 500–30 BC). Warminster: Aris & Phillips Limited.

Monday, 2 January 2023

New Course on the Egypt Centre Collection

Firstly, Happy New Year to all our readers and supporters!

2023 promises to be an exciting year for the Egypt Centre as we celebrate 25 years since the museum opened to the public. During this time, school groups, students, researchers, and other interested parties have come to visit the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities in Wales. To mark this occasion, we will be organising a variety of events, both in-person and online, say stay posted for further announcements.

Fig. 1: Relief depicting Khabekhnet and Sahte before Ptah, Ptah-Sokar, and Isis


First up, I’ll be teaching a five-week course called 25 Years of the Egypt Centre: History and Highlights (fig. 1). As the title says, this course will be devoted to the history and highlights of the museum, from its origins with the Wellcome loan in 1971 to its online engagement during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Each week we will examine selected objects on display in the House of Life and House of Death galleries, in addition to those kept in storage. This includes objects from sites such as Amarna, Armant, Abydos, Beni Hasan, Deir el-Bersha. Esna, Naqada, Tarkhan, and Thebes. The anthropoid coffin of the Chantress of Amun Iwesenhesetmut, the offering stand of the infamous Paneb, a limestone relief depicting the God’s Wife Neferure, and the lintel of the Overseer of Craftsmen Tjenti are just some of the objects to be discussed. Using 3D models of many of the objects (fig. 2), it is now possible for participants to get closer than ever to the collection in a virtual capacity. In doing so, it will provide participants with an in-depth knowledge of the museum and its collection.

Fig. 2: 3D model of a sandstone relief depicting a procession of deities (EC376)


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

- Sunday evenings 6–8pm (UK time) - Starting Sunday 08th January

- Wednesday mornings 10am–noon (UK time) - Starting Wednesday 11th January

Schedule

Week 1: (Sunday 08 January or Wednesday 11 January): The History of the Egypt Centre

Week 2: (Sunday 15 January or Wednesday 18 January): Highlights of the Egypt Centre

Week 3: (Sunday 22 January or Wednesday 25 January): The House of Death

Week 4: (Sunday 29 January or Wednesday 01 February): The House of Life

Week 5: (Sunday 05 February or Wednesday 08 February): Treasures in Storage

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. Full details and tickets can be purchased through our Eventbrite page

If you would like to receive updates on any Egypt Centre blog posts, you can now subscribe by using the recently added subscription button at the top right of this page!

Monday, 12 December 2022

Identifying Coffin Fragments from the Collection of a Banjo-Playing Barmaid

Several weeks ago, I wrote about identifying a limestone stela in the Egypt Centre as belonging to an official called Dedusobek. This identity was made possible thanks to the unpublished manuscripts cataloguing Sir Henry Wellcome’s Egyptian and Sudanese material between 1907 and 1914. The manuscripts were mainly compiled by William St Chad Boscawen (1854–1913) between 1907–1912 (Horry 2015). Since getting access to these manuscripts, which are housed at the Petrie Museum, in October this year, I have been able to identify many objects in the Egypt Centre collection. The manuscripts often include additional details otherwise unknown, such as previous owners, auction details, and related objects. This weekend, while working through the transcription of volume three, I spotted two entries for objects I’d been hoping to find information on for several years. Both pieces are wooden panels, which likely belong to the same object (W1042 & W1042a).

Fig. 1: W1042

W1042 (fig. 1) is a wooden panel depicting the god Osiris seated on a throne, with a cobra (Wadjet) wearing the Red Crown twisting around a papyrus and lotus plant shown behind. W1042a (fig. 2) is a larger wooden panel consisting of two registers. On the top, the deceased (or priest?) is depicted at either end with his hands raised in adoration before a winged scarab with two cobras (Wadjet and Nekhbet) emerging from it. A large solar disk was once present at the head of the scarab, but this is now missing and is only identifiable from the circular paint mark. Below this register is a scene depicting Isis (right) adoring Osiris, and Nephthys (left) adoring Re(?). At the top of the panel is a horizontal inscription, while the sides depict a frieze of rosettes between rectangular decoration. The colour scheme and decoration of both pieces is identical, which suggests that they belong to the same object. Additionally, both pieces have large numbers (6 & 7) written in square brackets in black ink. These were likely a numbering system used by an early collector, which is identical to two other objects in the Egypt Centre collection. But whose collection do they originate from? The answer to this had eluded me until this past weekend!

Fig. 2: W1042a


Both objects have their Wellcome registration numbers (R6909 & R6865) written on them, which is usually the key to identifying their origins. However, the records list these objects as simply being recorded in the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum (HMM) in November 1927. It seems that it was at this time that the objects on display in the museum were retrospectively registered. Thus, all that could be determined was that the object was deposited in the museum sometime between 1913 (when it was first opened to the public) and 1927. Given that the formal registration of Wellcome’s objects only started in 1913, it was likely that they were purchased at some point before this date.


When going through the unpublished manuscript on Saturday, I came across the following two entries (fig. 3):

Fig. 3: Boscawen manuscript page 
(Courtesy of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian and Sudanese Archaeology)


65: “Wooden panel cut out of a large coffin coloured red. Painting represents Osiris seated on his throne holding whip & Ankh. Behind him a large Uraeus serpent issuing from a Lotus plant. The throne of Osiris rests on a bed of water plants.”

66: “Large panel cut out of a coffin in two tiers. Upper tier representation of winged solar disk (disk missing) with two Uraei as supporters to the disk. In middle of the wings the Solar Kheper beetle. Two priests on either side adore the disk. Second Tier, Ra & Horus seated on their thrones being advised by Isis & Nephthys. Line of hieroglyphs on top giving the titles of Horus, Isis, Osiris Seb, & Khnum.”

 

In addition to the descriptions of the pieces, the manuscript states that these objects originate from the Meux collection, which was sold in 1911. While the lot number was not recorded by Boscawen in his manuscript, it was easy to identify it as lot 1504, which is described as follows (fig. 4):

Fig. 4: Auction catalgoue entry


“Inner wooden coffin of a lady who probably lived towards the end of the period of the XXVI dynasty, about B.C. 500. Cover of a coffin of a lady who probably lived during the Ptolemaic period, about B.C. 200. Painted end of a wooden coffin wherein are depicted the deceased adoring a winged disk, and the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. Panel from the same coffin, whereon is painted Osiris. Wooden face from the inner coffin of a man, about the period of the XXVIth dynasty, about B.C. 550; the face is painted red and the eyebrows blue. Wooden face from the inner coffin of a lady who flourished about B.C. 300.  Unpainted wooden face from the coffin of a man who flourished about B.C. 300. Fragment of wood from the coffin of Sheps-ta-Mat.”


Lady Valerie Susan Meux (1852–1910) was a socialite of the Victorian era. She was the wife of Sir Henry Bruce Meux, 3rd Baronet (1856–1900), who came from one of Britain’s richest brewing dynasties, Meux’s Brewery, founded in 1764, which was a major brewer of porter ale in London in the nineteenth century. Before her marriage, Lady Meux claimed to have been an actress, but was apparently on the stage for only a single season. She is believed to have met Sir Henry Meux at the Casino de Venise in Holborn, where she worked as a banjo-playing barmaid (fig. 5) and had a stage name Val Langdon. Lady Meux was a flamboyant and controversial figure, given to driving herself around London in a high phaeton, drawn by a pair of zebras. Their house at Theobald’s Park in Hertfordshire was lavishly improved and enlarged; additions included a swimming pool and an indoor roller-skating rink. It was at Theobald’s Park where Lady Meux amassed a collection of some 1800 Egyptian artefacts, which were first published by Sir E. A. T. Wallis Budge (1857–1934) in 1893 with a second edition in 1896.

Fig. 5: Lady Meux and her banjo


As mentioned previously, two other objects in the Egypt Centre collection bear the same numbering as found on the fragments discussed here. W352 is a wooden face from a coffin, which is painted red with blue eyebrows. It carries the number 8 in square brackets just below the chin. W1022 is an unpainted (except for the eyes) black wooden coffin face, which has the number 10 written on the forehead. These coffin fragments are described in the aforementioned lot, thus meaning that four of the eight pieces sold together are now housed in the Egypt Centre collection. Looking through Budge’s catalogue, I was delighted to find that the numbers correlated to his cataloguing (fig. 6). Thus, the mystery of the numbering and the identity of the former owner had finally been solved!

Fig. 6: Budge's catalogue entry


As for the two large wooden coffin panels, these have long been displayed in the Egypt Centre galleries. I remember being brought to the Egypt Centre back in 2004 as part of an MA module on museum collecting to be told (by a non-Egyptologist teaching the session) that W1042a was a forgery because the inscription above didn’t make sense. In reality, while the hieroglyphs do look unconventional, the inscription is perfectly readable (fig. 7):

Fig. 7: Inscription of W1042a

ꜥnḫ nṯr nfr ḥr ꜣst wsi͗r ḫnty-i͗mntt nṯr ꜥꜣ nb ꜣbḏw sꜣ n wr tp n gb

“Life to the Good God. Horus, Isis, and Osiris, Foremost of the West, the Great God, Lord of Abydos, the eldest son, the first born of Geb.”

 

This style of coffin is well-known as dating to the Roman Period (second century AD) and coming specifically from the necropolis of Tuna el-Gebel. The coffin of Teuris in the Allard Pierson Museum of Antiquities (APM 7069) being the most notable example (Kurth 1990). Unfortunately, with the Swansea fragments, the identity of the coffin owner remains a mystery that is unlikely to be solved any time soon!

 

Bibliography:

Budge, E. A. Wallis 1896. Some account of the collection of Egyptian antiquities in the possession of Lady Meux, of Theobald’s Park, Waltham Cross, 2nd ed. London: Harrison & Sons.

Haarlem, Willem M. van 2010. De sarkofaag van Teuris. APm: Allard Pierson Mededelingen 101–102, 8–11.

Haarlem, Willem M. van 1998. Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam, fascicle 4: sarcophagi and related objects. Corpus antiquitatum Aegyptiacarum: Lose-Blatt-Katalog ägyptischer Altertümer. Amsterdam: Allard Pierson Museum.

Horry, Ruth 2015. Assyriology at the margins, the case of William St. Chad Boscawen (1855–1913). Iraq 77/1, 107–128.

Kurth, Dieter 1990. Der Sarg der Teüris: eine Studie zum Totenglauben im römerzeitlichen Ägypten. Aegyptiaca Treverensia: Trierer Studien zum Griechisch-Römischen Ägypten 6. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.