To support the Egypt Centre, please click the button below

Monday, 28 January 2019

Decorated Faience Tiles (Part 2)

In my last blog post, I presented two fragmentary glazed faience tiles decorated with lapwings identifying the rekhyt-people. Although lapwing tiles are well known, they are not quite as famous as those depicting bound foreigners. Some of the most detailed are those discovered within the memorial temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, dating to the beginning of the Twentieth Dynasty (fig. 1). I was therefore quite surprised to find at least three fragments of such tiles in the Egypt Centre collection while searching through the box containing the lapwing tiles. Although not obvious at first, they each have a number of key identifying features.

Tiles from Medinet Habu (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: 03.1573, 03.157103.1572, 03.1569)

The first fragment is EC397a, which is the most obvious of the three (fig. 2). When rotated correctly, it is possible to identify the rear of a head, including the strands of the hair. Most importantly, directly above this are the remains of a horizontal feather. This feature was commonly worn by the Libyans, as shown in the tomb of Seti I (fig. 3). Egyptian sources describe Libyan men with long braided and beaded hair, neatly parted from different sides and decorated with feathers attached to leather bands around the crown of the head. Aside from their headdress, the Libyans were described as wearing thin robes of antelope hide, dyed and printed, crossing the shoulder and coming down until mid-calf length to make a robe.

Fig. 2: Head of a Libyan (EC397a)
Fig. 3: Four Libyans from the tomb of Seti I (KV 17)

The identification of the second fragment (EC398b) is much more difficult (Fig. 4). However, looking at parallels, it appears to depict the dress of a Nubian. At the top is a small rosette next to a small circle, which is similar to the decoration of the dress worn by the Nubian on British Museum EA 12293 (Fig. 5). Further similarity is also seen in the wavy line below this, while the small dots in a slight curve on the left side seem to correspond nicely to what looks like a sash in the British Museum fragment. Finally, the slightly ribbed section on the right can be interpreted as the folds of the dress.

Fig. 4: Dress of a Nubian (EC398b)

Fig. 5: Nubian (British Museum EA 12293)

The identification of the third fragment (EC397d) is much less certain, but it is possible that it represents part of the dress of a Shasu Bedouin (fig. 6). In particular, the fragment seems to be the section of the right shoulder with a blackish-brown dress containing a yellow diamond-shaped pattern. This is similar to one of the complete tiles in the Cairo Museum (JdE 36457g), which was excavated at Medinet Habu (fig. 7). While the irregular shape of this fragment might suggest that is broken, this is not the case. These faience tiles were composed of many small pieces that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to produce beautifully coloured figures.

Fig. 6: Possible dress section of a Shasu Bedouin (EC397d)
Fig. 7: Shasu Bedouin (JdE 36457g)

Just like the lapwing tiles presented in the previous blog post, the decorated faience tiles of foreigners originate from palaces, particularly the sites of Medinet Habu, Memphis, Tell el-Yahudia (Leontopolis), and Qantir. Since most seem to have been uncovered by the sebbakhin over a century ago, their exact context is not so clear. Despite this, some of these tiles have been found associated with the dais of the pharaoh.

Anthes, R. (1955) ‘Catalogue of Tiles and Other Inlays’. In The Excavations of Medinet Habu, IV: The Mortuary Temple of Ramses III, pt. II, ed. U. Hölscher. Oriental Institute Publications 55. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 42–47.
Anthony, F. B. (2017) Foreigners in Ancient Egypt: Theban Tomb Paintings from the Early Eighteenth Dynasty (1550–1372 BC). Bloomsbury Egyptology. London: Bloomsbury.
Daressy, G. (1911) ‘Plaquettes émaillées de Médinet-Habou’. Annales du service des antiquités de l’Égypte 11: 49–63.
Friedman, F., G. B. Dunn, and M. Leveque. eds (1998) Gifts of the Nile: Ancient Egyptian Faience. London: Thames and Hudson.
Hayes, W. C. (1937) Glazed Tiles From a Palace of Ramesses II at Kantīr. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Papers 3. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lewis, T. H. (1882) ‘Tel-el-Yahoudeh (the mound of the Jew)’. Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 7: 177–192.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Decorated Faience Tiles

In my last post, I mentioned that the topic of my PhD research and recent monograph dealt with the rekhyt-people. Therefore, it seems only natural that my opening object blog post deals with them! Firstly, a brief introduction to this group of people.

It is commonly accepted that the rekhyt-people are to be identified as the lowest class of society in ancient Egypt and have been called “subjects”, “common people”, “plebeians”, or “mankind”. While their appearance can take several forms, they are most often represented as lapwings with human hands raised in adoration. In particular, they appear in the form of a rebus reading dwȝ rḫyt nbt, "all the rekhyt-people adore", often before the cartouche(s) of the pharaoh who sponsored the monument (fig. 1). The lapwing is one of the earliest and most easily identifiable birds in Egyptian art, being depicted in both hieroglyphs and reliefs from the Protodynastic Period through Roman times.

Fig 1: Rekhyt rebus of Ramesses II at Luxor Temple

While searching through the photos of the objects in the Egypt Centre collection over Christmas, I noticed that one of our faience tiles (EC398c) contained a fragmentary lapwing figure in the form of the rekhyt rebus (fig. 2). While not particularly obvious, the tile depicts the lower part of the lapwing's body and foot directly above a nb-basket (the word for "all"). The basket is decorated with small squares, which would have been filed with multi-coloured pieces of faience. Some of the mortar used to affix these small squares is still present on the object. What's more, while looking through further faience tiles in the Egypt Centre collection, I found another fragment (EC397b) that has the unmistakable foot of a lapwing with part of the star hieroglyph (meaning "adore") directly above (fig. 3)! In the case of the latter fragment, the white inlay is now almost completely missing from the blue faience matrix.

Fig. 2: EC398c

Fig. 3: EC397b

Such multi-coloured tiles in the form of the rekhyt rebus are well known from the Ramesside Period. In particular, they have been excavated within the memorial temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu and his palace at Tell el-Yahudia (Leontopolis) in the Delta. Undoubtedly, the most wonderful example of these tiles is housed in the Cairo Museum (JdE 33968). Though its provenance is uncertain, this multi-coloured tile demonstrates the high degree of craftsmanship involved in the creation of these objects (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Cairo JdE 33968

So, how were these tiles used and what was their function? Well, it seems that they were used to flank doorways, particularly those of the palace or leading to it. The memorial temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu is a prime example, with the lower jambs of the doorway leading from the first court of the temple towards the palace decorated with friezes of lapwing tiles. Doorways with flanking rekhyt figures are first attested during the Eighteenth Dynasty and continue through the Roman era (fig. 5). Their purpose was to ensure the perpetual adoration of the rekhyt-people for their pharaoh, thus ensuring that maat (cosmic order) is maintained!

Fig. 5: Lapwings flanking a doorway of the temple of Khonsu at Karnak

Griffin, K. (2012) ‘Lapwing Tiles’. In Between Heaven and Earth. Birds in Ancient Egypt, ed. R. Bailleul-LeSuer. Oriental Institute Museum Publications 35. Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. 140–142.
——— (2015) ‘Links Between the Rekhyt and Doorways in Ancient Egypt’. In Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress of Egyptologists, University of the Aegean, Rhodes, 22–29 May 2008, ed. P. I. Kousoulis and N. Lazaridis. Orientalia lovaniensia analecta 241. Leuven: Peeters. 1115–1129.
——— (2018) 'All the Rḫyt-people Adore': The Role of the Rekhyt-people in Egyptian Religion. Golden House Egyptology 29. London: Golden House Publications.
Hayes, W. C. (1937) Glazed Tiles From a Palace of Ramesses II at Kantīr. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Papers 3. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Lewis, T. H. (1882) ‘Tel-el-Yahoudeh (the mound of the Jew)’. Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 7: 177–192.

Saturday, 12 January 2019


Hello, and welcome to my new blog as the Collections Access Manager at the Egypt Centre. For my first post, I thought it best to introduce myself. I was born in Belfast in 1981 during the hunger strikes and a time of deep division in Ireland. My interest in Egyptology developed at a young age, mainly through the many visits to the Ulster Museum in Belfast. While the museum displays only a small collection of Egyptian antiquities, the mummy of the lady Takabuti is its star attraction. My first visit to Egypt was a cruise on the Nile for my sixteenth birthday (1997), a trip that inspired me to want to study Egyptology.

Mummy of Takabuti in the Ulster Museum

In 2000 I arrived in Swansea in order to enrol as an undergraduate student on the Ancient History and Egyptology joint honours degree scheme at Swansea University. This was the first year that Egyptology had been offered as a degree scheme at Swansea, although several modules had been taught previously by Prof. Alan Lloyd. Following this, I enrolled on the new Master's degree in Ancient Egyptian Culture at Swansea, graduating in 2005. It was at this time that my interest in the rekhyt-people started, which resulted in me undertaking PhD research on them (more on the rekhyt-people to come in my next blog post!). I passed my PhD viva in 2014, with the reworked version of my thesis being published by Golden House Publications late last year.

Monograph on the rekhyt-people

Shortly after arriving in Swansea, I also visited the Egypt Centre for the first time, signing up to be a volunteer. Thus, my association with the Egypt Centre extends over eighteen years. During this time, I have been a volunteer, workshop assistant on our Saturday workshops, and now Collections Access Manager. Working at the Egypt Centre has obviously brought me in close proximity to the collection, so it is no surprise that my first academic publication dealt with a previously unrecognised ȝḫ ı͗ḳr n Rʿ stela (A232), which was excavated by Petrie at Abydos during his 1902–3 season. I have also published the ushabti of the little-known Divine Adoratrice Qedmerut (W1315), which initially stemmed from an undergraduate project at Swansea University. Most recently, I identified a relief (W1376) in the Egypt Centre stores as originating from the Eighteen Dynasty temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari. While I initially believed that this relief depicted Hatshepsut, I am now convinced that it depicts her daughter Neferure. The results of this research will be published later this year. A full list of my publications can be found here:

ȝḫ ı͗ḳr n Rʿ stela (A232) 

Aside from being a student and working at the Egypt Centre, I was previously the Co-ordinating Tutor of Egyptology for the Department of Adult Continuing Education (DACE) between 2004–2013. Most recently, I have been a Lecturer in Egyptology at Swansea University (2015–2018), during which time I integrated object-centred learning into my teaching by utilising the Egypt Centre collection. In 2010 I participated in my first excavation in Egypt, working on the Ahmose-Tetisheri Project at Abydos under the direction of Dr. Steve Harvey. In the same year, I joined the South Asasif Conservation Project (SACP), directed by Dr. Elena Pischikova, which I have been associated with ever since. I have also been part of the AcrossBorders Project, directed by Prof. Julia Budka, working on Sai Island in Sudan (2015–2016).

With the vignette of the Seventh Hour of the Night

Well, that’s probably enough about me. It is planned that this page will be a regular blog dealing with the Egypt Centre collection. Please subscribe to this blog (on the right) to receive updates!