To support the Egypt Centre, please click the button below

Monday, 25 February 2019

A Reserve Head at the Egypt Centre

Last week was another busy one at the Egypt Centre with several object handling sessions booked in. One particular session dealt with sculpture, as part of an Art and Architecture module led by Dr. Christian Knoblauch. Four objects were selected for the session by Christian and I, with the objects ranging from the Old Kingdom through the Late Period. As always, the students thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to handle real Egyptian objects (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Students examining some Egypt Centre sculpture

The oldest of the four objects selected was a "reserve head" (W164), which is carved from badly abraded limestone. Despite being life-size (23 cm), it was clearly not part of a larger statue as it is carefully smoothed off on the base. The head has close-cropped hair, eyebrows that are sculpted in raised low relief, and no ears present. Additionally, a "cranial groove" is present, a careful and deliberate cut that typically starts from the top of the cranium and extends to the back of the neck, is present. Traces of green pigment is present on the right side of the object, although this is perhaps copper residue from objects stored with it—as is the case with other objects in the collection—rather than an indication that it was originally painted (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Reserve head (W164)

Reserve heads are one of the most distinctive types of objects dating to the Old Kingdom, specifically to the Fourth Dynasty and the reigns of Khufu and Khafre (2551–2496 BC). They are attested mainly from the site of Giza, although others are noted from Abusir, Saqqara, and Dahshur. Only around thirty-seven are known, most of which are made of limestone. Their function is not so clear, with Ludwig Borchardt (1863–1938) first suggesting that they served as an alternative home for the spirit (ka) of the deceased owner if anything were to happen to their body. It has also been noted that the heads have a certain amount of individualisation mixed with idealisation. Most of the heads show some form of damage or mutilation, which has been the subject of much debate. This includes the ears being broken off or chiselled away, while others display the cranial groove (fig. 3). Roland Tefnin (1945–2006) suggested that the heads were ritually mutilated to prevent them from harming the living. Alternatively, Peter Lacovara believes that the "mutilations" were guidelines used by the sculptor in the creation of the reserve head.

Fig. 3: Rear of the head with cranial groove present (W164)

W164 was purchased by a Mr. Williams on behalf of Sir. Henry Wellcome for £1/5 shillings on the 13 November 1928. The Sotheby's auction catalogue (lot 378) describes it as "a life size head of a man, in stone with traces of original coloration. Ancient Egyptian." Unfortunately, the object is listed under the section of "other properties" rather than specifically listing the previous owner. Given the rarity of reserve heads, some Egyptologists who have visited the Egypt Centre collection have dismissed it as a fake. Yet the size, material, and form of W164 match well with those excavated at Giza and elsewhere. I hope that this post will generate some discussion on the authenticity of W164 (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: W164

Lacovara, P. (1997) ‘The Riddle of the Reserve Heads’. KMT 8, 4: 28–36.
Mendoza, B. (2017) ‘Reserve Head’. UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, Version 1, February 2017. 1–14. Available from
Millet, N. B. (1981) ‘The Reserve Heads of The Old Kingdom’. In Studies in Ancient Egypt, the Aegean, and the Sudan: Essays in Honor of Dows Dunham on the Occasion of His 90th Birthday, June 1, 1980, ed. W. K. Simpson and W. M. Davis. Boston, MA: Department of Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art, Museum of Fine Arts. 122–131.
Nuzzolo, M. (2011) ‘The ‘Reserve Heads’: Some Remarks on Their Function and Meaning’. In Old Kingdom, New Perspectives: Egyptian Art and Archaeology 2750–2150 BC, ed. N. Strudwick and H. Strudwick. Oxford: Oxbow Books. 200–216.
Picardo, N. S. (2007) ‘‘Semantic Homicide’ and the So-called Reserve Heads: The Theme of Decapitation in Egyptian Funerary Religion and Some Implications for the Old Kingdom’. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt 43: 221–252.
Roehrig, C. H. (1999) ‘Reserve Heads: An Enigma of Old Kingdom Sculpture’. In Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids, ed. Anonymous. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art. 72–81.
Tefnin, R. (1991) Art et magie au temps des pyramides: L’enigme des têtes dites ‘de replacement’. Monumenta Aegyptiaca 5. Brussels: Fondation egyptologique reine Elisabeth.
Vandersleyen, C. L. (1977) ‘Ersatzkopf’. In Lexikon der Ägyptologie 2, ed. H. W. Helck and W. Westendorf. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. 11–14.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Object-Based Learning at the Egypt Centre

This past week has been quite a busy one at the Egypt Centre with several modules at Swansea University utilising the collection. On Monday, Dr. Ersin Hussein, an ancient historian with interests in local identity formation in the Hellenistic and Roman Mediterranean, had a handling session at the Egypt Centre as part of her module Set in Stone? Inscribing and Writing in Antiquity. This module provides an overview of a history of inscribing objects in antiquity with a focus on the use of epigraphic evidence for the study of ancient history. For this session, a total of six objects were chosen for the students, some of which had never been used as teaching aids before (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Handling session in progress (photo by Ersin Hussein)

While the name of the Egypt Centre implies that we only have Egyptian objects in the collection, this session was a great opportunity to showcase some non-Egyptian material. One of the most interesting pieces is W953, a fragment of an Old South Arabian funerary stela (fig. 2). This is one of three Old South Arabian objects in the collection, which were all published by Prof. Ken Kitchen in 1997. The fragment, which is made of pink alabaster, contains the head of the owner with a partial horizontal text above. The text identifies the owner as "Sharah, son of (the clan) […]" (Šrḥ / bn / […]). Although the provenance of the fragment is unknown, it likely comes from the cemetery at Qataban (modern Yemen). The closest parallel is YM 69, housed in the National Museum of Yemen, Sana'a, which dates to the first century BC. YM 69 depicts the owner with his right arm upraised (an act of prayer or greeting) while holding a sword in his left (fig. 3). 

Fig. 2: W953

Fig. 3: YM 69 (

Another object used during this handling session was W950, a Sumerian fired brick with a stamp written in cuneiform (fig. 4). The text, written from left to right in four horizontal lines, reads as “Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, who built the temple of Nanna” (ur – {d}nammu lugal urí{ki}-ma lú é {d}nanna in-dù-a). Ur-Nammu (𒌨𒀭𒇉) was the founder of the Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur, in southern Mesopotamia, who ruled around 2047–2030 BC. His death on the battle-field against the Gutians after a rule of eighteen years was commemorated in a long Sumerian poetic composition. The Code of Ur-Nammu is one of the oldest known law codes surviving today. Nanna (𒀭𒋀𒆠) was the god of the moon whose main temple was at Ur. Parallels to this stamp are well-known, such as British Museum 90801.

Fig. 4: W950

Recent studies have shown that Object-Based Learning has many benefits, including the long-term retention of ideas. Handling sessions offer a tactile experience for students, challenging them to interrogate the object and conceptualise their thinking. Object-Based Learning has been practised at the Egypt Centre for many years now, enhancing the degree schemes at Swansea University (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Examining a mummy label (W549)

Chatterjee, H. and L. Hannan. eds. (2017) Engaging the Senses: Object-Based Learning in Higher Education. London: Routledge.
Hamblin, W. J. (2006) Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC. London: Routledge.
Kitchen, K. A. (1997) ‘Three Old-South-Arabian Fragments in the Wellcome Collection, University of Wales, Swansea’. Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 8: 241–244.
Paris, S. G. ed. (2002) Perspectives on Object-Centered Learning in Museums. London: Routledge.
Walker, C. B. F. (1981) Cuneiform brick inscriptions in the British Museum, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the City of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. London: British Museum Press. 

Monday, 11 February 2019

Work in the Valley of the Kings

On Saturday I spent my last day working in the Valley of the Kings before returning home to Swansea. As mentioned in my previous post, I am part of the Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project (PLUVK) directed by Dr. Donald ("Don") Ryan. The project has been working in the Valley since 1989, specifically on undecorated tombs. In total, Don is responsible for re-excavating 11 of the 64 tombs in the Valley. This season, work focused on KV 49, which was discovered in January 1906 by Edward R. Ayrton (1882–1914) working for Theodore M. Davis (1837–1915). We commenced work on the 2nd February, with a team consisting of Don (Project Director), Denis Whitfill (Assistant Field Director), Dr. David Aston (Ceramicist), myself, and 8 Egyptian workmen (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Team photo (Photo: Denis Whitfill/PLUVK)

KV 49 is a small undecorated tomb, which can be dated by its architecture to the Eighteenth Dynasty. The tomb appears to have been reused at the turn of the Twentieth and Twenty-first dynasties, as is evident from two hieratic graffiti written above the entrance. Both texts mention a number of officials, including the well-known royal scribe Butehamun. The texts describe the bringing of large quantities of linin over a period of several months. This led Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves to propose that the tomb had been employed as a storeroom for linens used in the restoration of the royal mummies (fig. 2)

Fig. 2: Outside KV 49 (Photo: Denis Whitfill/PLUVK)

The tomb's entrance had remained open for over 100 years and its interior encumbered with all manner of natural and human debris. Most of this debris had been removed during the 2018 campaign. As a result, it only took us a little over a week to finish up the clearing and cleaning. During the brushing of the floor on my final day, several nice seal impressions were recovered by the sifters. (fig. 3). Since some are only the size of a fingernail, they would probably have been overlooked if it wasn't for all the debris from the tomb being carefully screened by the keen-eyed workmen.

Fig. 3: Registering the seal impressions (Photo: PLUVK)

My time with the project was split between working in the Valley and with the objects housed in the magazine, located a short distance from the house of Howard Carter. Denis and I focused on photographing and studying coffin fragments from KV 45 and fragments of painted plaster on linen originating from KV 60. KV 45, the tomb of an official of the Eighteenth Dynasty named Userhat, was discovered by Howard Carter in 1902. Carter noted two mummies of the Twenty-second Dynasty, which were contained within double coffins. However, due to the tomb being badly decayed by water, he was unable to remove the coffins at the time. It wasn't until the PLUVK project re-excavated the tomb in between 1991 that the fragments of these coffins could be recovered. KV 60, which also dates to the Eighteenth Dynasty, was discovered by Howard Carter in 1903. The tomb contained two bodies of females, including Sitre, the wet nurse of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut. The identity of the second mummy has been the subject of much discussion, with some scholars believing that it's none other than that of Hatshepsut herself! During the re-excavation of the tomb by the project in 1989, many fragments of painted plaster on linen, which were originally attached to wooden coffins, were identified. These fragments originally belonged to a coffin of the temple signer Ty, a large fragment of which was recovered from the tomb (fig. 4). For more on this enigmatic and controversial tomb, please read the following blog post:

Fig. 4: Coffin fragment of the temple singer Ty (Photo: Denis Whitfill/PLUVK)

Aside from the work, it was great to meet so many colleagues and friends. This incudes one of the Egypt Centre volunteers, Dulcie Engel, who was travelling with her husband (Gabby) to Egypt for the first time. On Thursday evening we had an excellent meal in Pub 2000. (fig. 5), where we also discussed the various sites they had visited!

Fig. 5: A relaxing evening at Pub 2000

Carter, H. (1903) ‘Report of Work Done in Upper Egypt (1902–1903)’. Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte 4: 171–180.
Reeves, C. N. (1990) Valley of the Kings: The Decline of a Royal Necropolis. Studies in Egyptology. London: Kegan Paul International.
Reeves, C. N. and R. H. Wilkinson (1996) The Complete Valley of the Kings: Tombs and Treasures of Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson.
Ryan, D. P. (1990) ‘Field Report: Who is Buried in KV60?’. KMT 1, 1: 34–39, 58–59, 64.
Ryan, D. P. (1992) ‘Some Observations Concerning Uninscribed Tombs in the Valley of the Kings’. In After Tut’ankhamūn: Research and Excavation in the Royal Necropolis at Thebes, ed. C. N. Reeves. Studies in Egyptology. London: Kegan Paul International. 21–27.
Ryan, D. P. (2010) ‘Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project: Work Conducted during the 2007 Field Season’. Annales du Service des Antiquités de l’Égypte 84: 383–388.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Gold from the Valley of the Kings

On Wednesday 30th January I flew to Luxor to spend the next 12 days as part of the Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project directed by Don Ryan. The work this season will focus on the clearance of KV 49, which was discovered in January 1906 by Edward R. Ayrton (1882–1914) working for Theodore M. Davis (1837–1915).

Working in the Valley provides a good opportunity to highlight some objects in the Egypt Centre collection that originate from here. These objects are currently on loan from the Swansea Museum, having been donated by Miss Annie Sprake Jones of Bryn Myrddin, Abergwili (Carmarthenshire) in the late 1950s. The objects had been left to Miss Jones by her brother, Ernest Harold Jones (1877–1911), after his death (fig. 1). Harold Jones, as he was more commonly known as, was first employed by John Garstang (1876–1956) as an illustrator for the 1903–1904 season at Beni Hasan. After this, he took on responsibilities directing excavations at Beni Hasan, Hierakonpolis, Esna, Hissaya, Abydos, and various sites in Nubia. In 1907 he parted company with Garstang and joined the expedition of Theodore M. Davis (1837–1915) in the Valley of the Kings.

Fig. 1: Portrait of Harold Jones

First to be discussed is a small box containing gold leaf fragments (SM.1950.3.9), believed to have come from the gold shrine discovered within KV 55 (fig. 2). This tomb, which was found in 1907 by Edward Ayrton working for Theodore Davis, is perhaps the most controversial burial place in the Valley of the Kings. KV 55 had been looted in ancient times, but it had also suffered from flooding and moisture. This caused the large decorated wooden panels, which were gilded with a thin layer of gold leaf, to disintegrate soon after their discovery. Visitors to the tomb at the time noted that there was gold dust everywhere. Miss Jones reported that during a visit to the tomb her brother asked Theodore Davis if he could take a handful of 'souvenirs'. Davis' response was "Certainly, take two"!

Fig 2: Fragments of gold leaf from KV 55

The second object to be presented is a fragment of glass (SM.1959.3.2) bearing the cartouches of the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep II (fig. 3). According to Miss Jones, this fragment also originated from KV 55. Yet SM.1959.3.2 joins with a white amphora vessel (Cairo CG 24804) excavated by Victor Loret (1859–1946) within the burial chamber of Amenhotep II (KV 35) in 1898. The debate surrounding the provenance of this fragment has been discussed by Bosse-Griffiths (originally in 1961, reprinted in 2001) and Aldred (1962). More recently, the article by Nicholson and Jackson (2013) nicely sums up the various possibilities. In particular: (1) that the vessel was originally deposited in KV 55 before being moved to KV 35 along with the mummy of Queen Tiye (the "Elder Lady"), with the fragment collected by Jones overlooked by the ancient Egyptians since the vessel had been broken by looters. (2) The vessel originated from KV 35 with the Swansea fragment having been recovered by Jones during his clearance of Davis' spoil heap.

Fig. 3: Glass fragment with the cartouches of Amenhotep II (SM.1959.3.2) 

Harold Jones is well known for the beautiful watercolours he produced for a number of tombs in the Valley of the Kings, particularly those used in the publication of the tomb of Siptah (KV 47). Some of these watercolours and objects originating from excavations in which Harold Jones participated are currently housed in the Carmarthenshire County Museum. At an unknown date Kate Bosse-Griffiths (1910–1998), the first Honorary Curator of the Egypt Centre collection (formerly known as the Wellcome Collection) acquired two lesser-known watercolours produced by Jones. One of them depicts the modern cultivation with a mountain range in the background, perhaps the Theban hillside where he spent his formative years (fig. 4). The story of Harold Jones was rather brief as he succumbed to Tuberculosis in 1911 at the age of 34. The bilingual inscription on his Luxor gravestone reads:

Fig. 4: Watercolour perhaps depicting the Theban hillside.

Aldred, C. (1962) ‘The Harold Jones Collection’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 48: 160–162.
Bierbrier, M. L. (2012) Who Was Who in Egyptology. London: The Egypt Exploration Society. 4th edition.
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001) ‘Finds from “the Tomb of Queen Tiye” in the Swansea Museum’. In Amarna Studies and other Selected Papers, ed. J. G. Griffiths. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 97–107.
Bosse-Griffiths, K. (2001) ‘Gold-leaf from the Shrine of Queen Tiye’. In Amarna Studies and other Selected Papers, ed. J. G. Griffiths. Freiburg (Schweiz); Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 108–110.
Davis, T. M. ed. (1910) The Tomb of Queen Tîyi. Theodore M. Davis’ excavations: Bibân el Molûk. London: Constable.
Delaney, C. (1986) “A Son to Luxor’s Sand”: A Commemorative Exhibition of Egyptian Art from the Collections of the British Museum and Carmarthen Museum. Dyfed: Dyfed County Council. 
Evans, N. (2014) ‘A Welshman in Egypt: Harold Jones: Tombs, Treasures, Artist Extraordinary’. Ancient Egypt: The History, People and Culture of the Nile Valley 84: 26–33.
Nicholson, P. T. and C. Jackson (2013) ‘Glass of Amenhotep II from Tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings’. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 99: 85–99.
Pinch-Brock, L. (2007) ‘The Short, Happy Life of Harold Jones, Artist and Archaeologist’. In Who Travels Sees More: Artists, Architects and Archaeologists Discover Egypt and the Near East, ed. D. Fortenberry. Oxford: ASTENE; Oxbow. 31–39.
Reeves, C. N. and R. H. Wilkinson (1996) The Complete Valley of the Kings: Tombs and Treasures of Egypt’s Greatest Pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson.
Schlick-Nolte, B., R. Werthmann, and C. E. Loeben (2011) ‘An Outstanding Glass Statuette Owned by Pharaoh Amenhotep II and Other Early Egyptian Glass Inscribed with Royal Names’. Journal of Glass Studies 53: 11–44.